Matthew Lickona 11:49 p.m., Dec. 10
Robert Redford's tardy exposé of the TV game-show scandals of the late Fifties has the common drawbacks of the docudrama. The drama, as such, is already well documented (foreknown, foregone), and, to the extent that it remains tied to the facts of the case, is perforce not terribly dramatic (formful, thrustful). The maker of such a thing is typically less a story-spinner than a lecture-giver and a lesson-drawer. Redford is no exception. Once more combing the library for a project on which he could wear his directorial hat (not his thespian one), but roaming for the first time into the nonfiction section and down from the literary empyrean, he has fingered a volume entitled Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties (or more precisely, one chapter therein) by Richard N. Goodwin, the one-time Kennedy speech writer and another-time investigator for the Congressional Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight, in which capacity he nosed into the rigged prime-time game show, Twenty-One. Where the movie advances furthest into entertainment if not full-fledged drama is in the characterization of Herbie Stempel of Queens ("Now there's a face for radio!"), the long-running champion of Twenty-One who is unseated by the Ivy Leaguer Charles Van Doren, and who then has to watch with escalating envy as this silver-spoon egghead (son of Mark, nephew of Carl) enjoys an even longer run, with commensurate fortune and fame. John Turturro, an Italian-American who has made something of a specialty of loony Jews (Barton Fink, Miller's Crossing, Mo' Better Blues, Brain Donors), sketches an always lively caricature of intellectual grandiosity, wounded ego (it really sticks in his craw that he is asked to take his dive on the duck-soup question of the Academy Award winner for 1955: Marty of all movies!), and ethnic paranoia. The casting of Ralph Fiennes as Van Doren, fresh from his command post at the Nazi labor camp of Schindler's List, perhaps gives undue justification to the paranoia. Or if not undue, then unearned. With Rob Morrow, Paul Scofield. 1994.
— Duncan Shepherd
- Rated PG-13