Mixed or average reviews - based on 34 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 16 out of 34
  2. Negative: 0 out of 34

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Critic Reviews

  1. When he's good, Mr. Mamet is very good indeed, and Spartan stands with the best work he's done. It's fast-moving, unpredictable, and as tautly, tightly wound as thrillers get.
  2. 100
    The patter is always fascinating, and at right angles to the action. [Mamet]'s like a magician who gets you all involved in his story about the King, the Queen and the Jack, while the whole point is that there's a rabbit in your pocket.
  3. Until its final stumble, this intelligence thriller, starring Val Kilmer, is charged with brilliance.
  4. Is Spartan a perfect, or even a great, movie? Probably not. But in its prickly irascibility and deeply unsettling intelligence, it makes for a very, very good one.
  5. 80
    Using simplicity as another form of deception, Mamet lays out a hand of three-card monte for the audience to see, then tricks it into guessing falsely. In this case, it's worth getting fooled out of a little cash.
  6. A political thriller with topical currency, Spartan delivers the goods.
  7. 75
    Mamet being Mamet, the story has far greater repercussions than whether the kidnap victim will be returned to safety. This is a tale of grand conspiracies, formidable forces, shadow warfare; the more that is revealed, the higher the stakes become.
  8. An entertaining foray into a world of spy guys, stakeouts and secret government machinations, Spartan teems with the kind of terse crypto-speak that is the playwright and filmmaker's stock-in-trade.
  9. 75
    The movie worked for me both as a commentary on the electoral process and as a slightly overcooked thriller.
  10. Don't go expecting a good time to be had. But by all means, go to revel in a movie that, for about two-thirds of its length, is Mamet at the top of his game -- intelligent, tightly crafted, densely layered.
  11. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    When Spartan is good, it's surprisingly gripping and fresh, and when it's bad, it's just another overcooked Hollywood paranoid thriller.
  12. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    Sometimes I wonder how Mamet can get out of bed, he's so paranoid, let along crank out two-thirds (at least) of a thriller this crackerjack. I hope that next time he leaves out the (booby) prize.
  13. A vigorous and engrossing genre exercise that manages the difficult trick of being both logically meticulous and genuinely surprising. Its elaborately implausible story gestures now and then toward an idea, but the movie's main concern is technique.
  14. This a film where men on both sides of the line are seasoned and efficient. Men after Mamet's own heart.
  15. Reviewed by: Mike Clark
    This is one of those movies in which a strong ending might have made all the difference...But the wrap-up is unsatisfying, with too many questions unanswered.
  16. Spartan is all good. Then it isn't. Then it isn't at all good. Not at all.
  17. Reviewed by: Robert Koehler
    A work that continually seems on the verge of genuine excitement but sabotages itself at every turn...results will intrigue only those interested in the nooks and crannies of Mamet's career.
  18. Spartan is a character study embedded in an action-hero scenario. Neither aspect ever really breaks loose.
  19. The problem with Spartan isn't so much that it's mediocre, but that it could be a whole lot better.
  20. Mamet's understanding of the essentials here and his skill in supplying them are not major achievements for him, but it would be wasteful not to recognize them. Spartan is another feather, though a small one, in his cap.
  21. Reviewed by: Chris Hewitt
    Being a Mamet, we expect superb dialogue and twists, but we also get refreshingly compact action scenes, even if the climactic airport skirmish is on the pat side. A lesser Mamet, then, but still compelling.
  22. Just cryptic enough to keep you guessing, and for some viewers that may qualify as a night out. But Mamet's gamesmanship was more fun when it was less eager to look important.
  23. David Mamet takes on the digi-tech, hard-Clancy-core intel thriller most often inflated by Tony Scott and like-minded plodders, and typically he elevates it, botches it, and exploits it for searing political comment.
  24. 50
    Terrifically terrible, Spartan could well be Mamet's first true comedy. Only the movie thinks it's a nail biter.
  25. 50
    Imagine David Mamet rewriting his political satire "Wag the Dog" -- in which a president and his advisers declare war to distract the media from the prez's horn-dog activities -- as a joke-free kidnap drama.
  26. 50
    Starts out promisingly, but quickly sinks under the weight of its own plot twists, ponderous pacing and Val Kilmer's monotonous performance as a ruthless special-ops agent.
  27. The film remains, clearly by design, a cold piece, mechanistic and only intermittently involving.
  28. If I were in the sign business, I'd produce a bumper sticker that reads "Even smart people make dumb movies" -- and give the first one to David Mamet.
  29. David Mamet's political thriller about the disappearance of the president's daughter is an unsatisfying slipknot of a film -- it looks tight and elaborate, but give it a tug and it goes flat.
  30. 50
    Spartan is the same old stuff, but now it's been thoroughly Mametized, like a spray-on treatment you could spritz out of a can.
  31. (Mamet) backslides to a system that has his speeches read in a stylized way. The result is language that sounds unhappily artificial and characters who behave like they are less than real.
  32. Wall Street Journal
    Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    Feelings play second fiddle to stylized attitudes in Spartan, and fancy style can't conceal the film's clumsiness.
  33. The heroes (Kilmer, Derek Luke) are all totally good, the villains (Ed O'Neill, William H. Macy) are all totally bad, and the macho one-liners are sufficiently adolescent to produce the desired snickers. I tried very hard to imagine I was somewhere else.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 34 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 8 out of 17
  2. Negative: 3 out of 17
  1. Nov 28, 2015
    as dull and stupid and sucked up this whole flic seems, theres still one central message to find: " DONT SMOKE AMERICAN TOBACCO IN HERE; YOUas dull and stupid and sucked up this whole flic seems, theres still one central message to find: " DONT SMOKE AMERICAN TOBACCO IN HERE; YOU CAN SMELL IT IN THE DESERT OVER MILES!!!" Full Review »
  2. GBJ
    Aug 27, 2005
    This is a movie for planners, not shooters. Mamet and Kilmer are at the top of their game here, opening the puzzle box bit by bit. The film This is a movie for planners, not shooters. Mamet and Kilmer are at the top of their game here, opening the puzzle box bit by bit. The film perfectly captures the tempo and temper of special ops, political power plays, and media hysteria. Full Review »