Hardened by years of brutal but loyal military service special ops officer Robert Scott (Val Kilmer) is assigned to find the president's apparently kidnapped daughter Laura Newton (Kristen Bell). Pairing up with his protégé Curtis (Derek Luke) Scott works diligently with a task force of presidential advisors the Secret Service the FBI and the CIA to find her and through their investigation they stumble upon a white slavery ring in the Middle East which may--or may not--have some connection to Laura's disappearance. The straightforward search-and-rescue mission is soon bogged down in political machinations and the girl's abduction starts to look even more suspicious than it did at first. In fact the mission comes to an abrupt halt altogether when the girl is supposedly found drowned from a boating accident. Scott returns to his quiet life until Curtis shows up and proves that Laura is still alive and most likely trapped in the white slavery ring. In a race against time Scott and Curtis embark on their own unofficial rescue mission--and put themselves at the center of a dangerous conspiracy that goes all the way to the top of the U.S. government.
Val Kilmer probably won't be joining Mamet's dedicated circle of players--which includes Joe Mantegna William H. Macy and Mamet's wife actress Rebecca Pidgeon--any time soon. While it's clear Kilmer took the role to work with the talented writer/director he isn't well suited to deliver "Mamet-speak"--the rapid fire delivery of terse dialogue the writer is known for--and Kilmer looks uncomfortable trying to do it. The gifted actor who can't help but bring in his own quirky sensibilities to the part still hits the nail on the head as steely resolute Scott. But the minute he starts dispensing sage advice--Mamet-style--Kilmer sticks out like a sore thumb. Same goes for Luke (Antwone Fisher) who is entirely miscast as Scott's sidekick. Others in the ensemble however handle the Mamet chores more adeptly including Macy and Ed O'Neill (yes the guy from TV's Married ... With Children) as presidential aides.
Spartan's real problem however is that it's a thriller without much thrill. Mamet's expertise is in creating scenarios within a microcosm whether it's a world of con artists (House of Games; The Spanish Prisoner) salesmen (Glengarry Glen Ross) or even showbiz (State and Main). These Mamet films are even-keeled--almost devoid of emotion. He sets up characters and actions relevant to that particular world so when characters spout lines in Mamet's distinctive style it comes off as perfectly natural. Yet with Spartan Mamet is tackling a bigger grander picture and when his style is applied to the world as a whole it doesn't work. Plus in the thriller genre the audience needs to feel invested in the characters and Mamet's distant unemotional style doesn't lend itself to sending the audience's collective hearts racing. The only poignant moment in the film belongs to Bell as the wounded daughter who just wants a little attention from Daddy and the only truly exciting moments are during her rescue. That said however Spartan proves Mamet still knows how to craft a story. Although the script is at times vague and convoluted it thankfully never falls into any of the genre's usual patterns and it throws in enough twists to keep you on your toes.
Justine Last (Jennifer Aniston) lives the kind of life that rarely makes the big screen. She spends her days giving makeovers at the Retail Rodeo and her nights watching her house painter husband of seven years Phil (John C. Reilly) and his best friend Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) sit on her couch and get high. All of that changes though when she meets Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal) the new cashier. The eager yet troubled young poet/screenwriter/novelist-to-be captures her imagination and eventually becomes her lover. In classic moments of small-Southern-town trysting he takes her to his room in his parents' house and arranges meetings outside the Chuck E. Cheese's. They shack up in a motel at the edge of town; they rendezvous at a lake in the country. Throughout the affair though Justine is torn and guilty wanting to be a "good girl " but finding herself a hateful woman--a self-proclaimed adulteress and a liar. This is no whitewashed fantasy of a romantic affair between an older woman and a younger man. This affair is your sister's your brother's your husband's your wife's. It's real it's gritty and it's painful. Ultimately Holden's love for Justine becomes morbid and obsessive causing her to realize that the man she thought would change her life was in fact "at best a child and at worst--a demon." Justine is then forced to choose: this obsessive love and the excitement it brings or a stable--if boring--life with her husband.
Aniston proves her mettle at last in a role that finally allows her to do so; no one who sees this film will ever again accidentally call her "Rachel" (her character on the ubiquitous sitcom Friends). Her performance perfectly captures the tension of wanting to be a "good girl" yet secretly yearning to be selfish. You know she's dueling with herself as she makes decision after decision that leads inexorably to the film's tragic ending and you feel her pain. Justine is flawed like all the rest of us and Aniston brings this humanity to the forefront creating one of the most realistic heroines in recent history. Gyllenhaal too is perfectly cast as the brooding intense Holden. He captures the duality screenwriter Mike White writes into nearly all the characters in this movie: You want to snuggle Holden one minute; the next you wish he'd just go away. Reilly and Nelson also demonstrate a not inconsiderable subtlety in roles that could easily have become caricatures; instead the tension between what these guys wanted from life and what they ultimately ended up with accentuates Justine's turmoil and deepens the film's theme. On the film's lighter side White puts in a hilariously dark turn as Corny the Bible-thumping security guard at Retail Rodeo and Zooey Deschanel is excellent as the classic employee with an attitude hurling insults at Retail Rodeo customers over the loudspeaker as she announces the latest bargain on aisle eight.
The Good Girl doesn't look like much. Darkness and shadows invade every corner of the screen at one point or another the sets are fairly commonplace and the costumes are simple: Lee jeans smocks plaid shirts and painter's pants. Even Aniston's pink bathrobe is dull and washed out. The Good Girl is a smart delicately ironic and insightful partnership between a brilliant screenwriter (White) and a director (Miguel Arteta) who know exactly how to bring words to life on the screen. And The Good Girl does come to life in a well-paced funny quirky package that leaves you thinking that above all what you have seen is a slice of truth in a mixed-up crazy world.