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Wag the Dog Details


In a 29-day shoot, Barry Levinson filmed this $15 million political and media satire, adapted by Hilary Henkin and David Mamet from Larry Beinhart's novel, American Hero. Two weeks prior to re-election, the President (Michael Belson) is accused of cornering an underage girl in the Oval Office. To keep the media from learning of this, Presidential adviser Winifred Ames (Anne Heche) brings in political consultant and spin doctor Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), a specialist in such salvage operations. Brean suggests fabricating denials of non-existent emergencies -- such as denials about the B-3 bomber. The denial, of course, is true, since no B-3 bomber exists. Brean visits the mansion of Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) and gives him the assignment to create a patriotic campaign centered around a war in Albania. Motss assembles a creative team -- Liz Butsky (Andrea Martin), the trend-setter Fad King (Denis Leary), and songwriter Johnny Green (Willie Nelson). Treated like an ad campaign, the songs and symbols are transmitted directly from a Hollywood soundstage to CNN. The star of their campaign is a "rescued" pilot -- in reality, a psychotic military prisoner (Woody Harrelson), who's a ticking time bomb. The flag-waving song, "The American Dream" was written for the film by Tom Bahler (who co-wrote "We Are the World"). Beinhart's original novel involved a real President (Bush), a real war (the Gulf War), and the premise that George Bush and Saddam Hussein staged it. ~ Bhob Stewart, Rovi

  • Release date:December 25, 1997


Awarded by
Hollywood Foreign Press Association Hilary Henkin Best Screenplay 1997 Nominee
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Hilary Henkin Best Adapted Screenplay 1997 Nominee
National Board of Review Anne Heche Best Supporting Actress 1997 Winner
Screen Actors Guild Dustin Hoffman Best Actor 1997 Nominee
Hollywood Foreign Press Association Dustin Hoffman Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy 1997 Nominee
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Dustin Hoffman Best Actor 1997 Nominee
Hollywood Foreign Press Association David Mamet Best Screenplay 1997 Nominee
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences David Mamet Best Adapted Screenplay 1997 Nominee


Dustin Hoffman
as Stanley Motss
Robert De Niro
as Conrad Brean
Anne Heche
as Winifred Ames
Woody Harrelson
as Sgt. William Schumann
Denis Leary
as Fad King
Willie Nelson
as Johnny Green
Andrea Martin
as Liz Butsky
Michael Belson
as President
Suzanne Cryer
as Amy Cain
John Michael Higgins
as John Levy
Suzie Plakson
as Grace
Kirsten Dunst
as Tracy Lime
William H. Macy
as Mr. Young
Jason Cottle
as "A D" (Assistant Director)


Barry Levinson
Barry Levinson
Robert De Niro
Jane Rosenthal
Larry Beinhart
Book Author
Hilary Henkin
David Mamet
Robert Richardson
Stu Linder
Wynn P. Thomas
Production Designer
Mark Worthington
Art Director
Claire Rudnick Polstein
Executive Producer
Michael De Luca
Executive Producer
Ezra Swerdlow
Executive Producer
Rita Ryack
Costume Designer
Steve Cantamessa
Sound/Sound Designer
Amy Sayres
First Assistant Director
Debra Zane
Ellen Chenoweth