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I don't think any kidnapping should be called ordinary, but if there were such a thing, Laura Newton's started out that way. At least it seems pedestrian until you find out that Laura Newton is the President of the United States' daughter. And that she's been abducted by a ring of international "flesh traders" who funnel women to brothels in the Middle East.
There's a whole lot more to it than that—this being a David Mamet movie—but he saves most of it for late in the story. Immediately obvious is that special ops officer Robert Scott is revved up and ready to find Laura, even if it means throwing away his career and killing everyone he meets along the way. So, like a bloodhound with his nose to the pavement, Scott journeys from the East Coast to the Colorado Rockies to the Middle East, aided by disposable rookie agents Curtis and Jackie. Aid isn't forthcoming from the Secret Service power structure, however, and Scott isn't quite sure why—at first.
Scott often refers to himself as a "worker bee," a foot soldier dedicated to mindlessly following orders, but when Laura's life is on the line, he thinks pretty far outside of the box to save her. He does so at his own expense, without thought to his wellbeing or future. Similarly, Curtis and Jackie risk everything to bring Laura home. The story line condemns prostitution and slavery; Mamet paints those who perpetuate it as soulless monsters.
Scott refers to dispatching the enemy as "sending their souls to hell." Two ambiguous lines refer to Scott being the only one who's heard another man "call on Jesus."
The film's grim subject matter—forced prostitution—would prompt some filmmakers to bludgeon moviegoers with graphic sexual depictions. Spartan chooses a sparer road, but it doesn't avoid sexual images and language altogether. Laura strips off her top, showing Scott her breasts in an effort to convince him to give her a cigarette (her back is to the camera). Surveillance video shows a woman dressing.
Everything else related to sexuality is verbal. The f-word is frequently used as a verb. During interrogations, sexual accusations are hurled with coarse brutality. Scott accuses a man of being gay. And he poses as a "dirty old man" prowling for younger women. There are vulgar and obscene references to anatomical parts and functions.
Not much is held back in the violence department. Bullets blast through skulls and chests, spraying blood on impact. Gun battles are frequent and intense. Scott kills a man by shooting him at close range. He and other operatives kill numerous people during the course of their mission. A few "good guys" are also killed, mostly by gunfire. To determine who gets an assignment, rookies are forced to fight each other until only one is left standing. When a man shoots himself in the head, his bloody remains are seen afterwards. But when another man takes bullet to the brain, the camera steadily watches as blood explodes.
Trying to extract information, Scott breaks a suspect's arm while torturing him. He orders Curtis to gouge the man's eye out with his knife (the criminal starts talking before Curtis follows through). Scott also knocks around a woman to get her to talk, and he punches Laura in the stomach to make her stop talking. He slices a man's throat.
Crude or Profane Language
About 30 f-words (more than a few are combined with "mother"), a couple s-words and an obscene sexual reference. Jesus' name is abused twice.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Scott discovers that a man has a bottle of date rape drugs ("roofies") in his pocket. Scott and others down occasional drinks. A reference is made to cocaine being involved in two people's drowning deaths. It's said that the kidnapped girls are drugged for transport overseas. Scott, Laura and others smoke cigarettes. Scott rolls some of them by hand.
Other Negative Elements
Spartan is ostensibly an investigation into the kidnapping of the President's daughter. But underneath all the action and intrigue lie pejorative potshots and mountains of dirty little secrets. Mostly, the film takes aim at political corruption and greed. The President and the Secret Service are ultimately vilified, and Scott has to go rogue to save Laura.
Redeeming is its condemnation of familial neglect and the display of how bad things can get when a father cares more about his status than his daughter. Remarkable is its staunch refusal to exploit—and use for titillation—sexual slaves while condemning those who traffic in them.
Typical, though, is its R-rated indulgence in gratuitous violence and obscene language. And muddled is its treatment of how one should go about doing "the right thing." "There is nothing I will not do to get the girl back," Scott declares, leaving moviegoers inspired by his courage and confounded by his tactics.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Val Kilmer as Scott; Derek Luke as Curtis; William H. Macy as Stoddard; Ed O'Neill as Burch; Tia Texada as Jackie Black; Johnny Messner as Grace; Kristen Bell as Laura Newton
David Mamet ( )