Agent Scott (Val Kilmer) usually works in training new recruits to the Marines these days, but he is available to be called upon should the need arise. Currently he is out at a rural camp overseeing various young soldiers, including Jackie Black (Tia Texada) and Curtis (Derek Luke) who he can tell will be excellent in their roles protecting America, not that he would tell them that, preferring to keep his professional distance from his charges and underlings. However, he will keep these two in mind when a new case arises of vital urgency: there has been a kidnapping of a top government official's daughter, Laura Newton (Kristen Bell), and time is running out to get her back, so can Scott help?
The way he wades into action like a military-approved Mike Hammer would suggest that he can, and so it was in this thriller devised by David Mamet as the point when his big screen career was beginning to wind down, at least as far as writing and directing his own feature film projects went. Those who appreciated his dialogue and plotting would not be disappointed, yet there was a vocal contingency who claimed this was hackneyed, nonsensical rubbish of the lowest order, which may be why he was not asked to pen many more in this vein, even though a clear vision for a suspense piece was always welcome in an overcrowded field since it made the production more distinctive, standing out from its peers.
That the naysayers believed that was down to its total implausibility was a mark against Spartan, but really by the time it had sorted itself out this was as much indebted to the James Bond franchise as it was any hue of political thriller, no matter that Mamet appeared to be taking aim at the authorities he viewed as hopelessly corrupt and landing the free world in a whole heap of trouble by not sorting out the Middle East. It was no secret he had, seemingly overnight, turned from a vocal liberal to an equally, if not more so, vocal conservative, and that had cheesed off a lot of audiences who had previously been quite happy to embrace his particular stylings, but this was not much more reactionary than any number of action flicks down the years.
Fair enough, it did not include the token nice Arab (even James Cameron's True Lies had one of those), but considering it was a conspiracy stretching across national boundaries and oceans then really it was more a "who do we trust?" yarn, the sort of paranoia that fuelled a majority of the thrillers that had a political leaning, as this did. Still, there was a slightly offputting air to what was not quite the gung ho America First escapade that it might have been, maybe it was the sense of hopelessness, of a society that had grown so mired in deceit that it was difficult to divine any way out of it other than to pin your hopes on a lone maverick, fair enough when it was the movies but not too conducive to problem solving when in the real world a greater degree of teamwork was unavoidably necessary.
In that manner Agent Scott was an echo of the action hero of the nineteen-eighties, the lone wolf taking on an army and exterminating them with his special skill set, so at least Mamet had some faith in the military for getting ordinary citizens out of trouble, if not rescuing international crises. The title came from the idea that Sparta would send a single soldier when asked for help by other lands, and that was more than enough, a pre-300 (the movie) mention of a historical hardmen of great respect among aspiring tough guys, so Scott was your Spartan riding to the rescue. He did have assistance from other operatives, the ones he was sure he could trust, but Mamet had a habit of bumping off just about everyone around him, good guy and bad, to increase the peril and make his victory all the more hard earned. Much of this took place in murky locations, and even when the sun was out this looked murky, but if you were up for an unpretentious array of beatings, shootings and hushed conversations, this was perfectly adequate. Music by Mark Isham.