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Quiz Show

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Quiz Show

Starring: John Turturro, Rob Morrow
Director: Robert Redford
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 133 Minutes
Release Date: September 1994
Genre: Drama

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Review by Dragan Antulov
2 stars out of 4

These days game shows are viewed as symbol of everything which is false and artificial on television. But few decades ago, in the pioneering days of the new media, perception of game shows was completely different. In 1950s America quiz shows were not just the most popular form of television - they were viewed as the living embodiment of American Dream. They gave Average Joes their chance for instant fame and fortune. They also awarded good old traditional values like hard work and education over physical looks, strengths and luck - those qualities beyond the reach of mere mortals. But in 1958 that belief was forever shattered with a scandal that would gradually turn American Dream into nightmare... At least this is what screenwriter Paul Attanasio and director Robert Redford are trying to convince us in their 1994 drama QUIZ SHOW.

The plot of the film is based on the true story that began in 1958. In that time the most popular television show is NBC's "Twenty One". For several weeks one of its contestants, Herbert Stempel (played by John Turturro) is on the winning streak, earning huge amounts of money in the process. Producers, on the other hand, don't share his enthusiasm because New York Jew with the bad teeth can't make sponsors happy. So, they pressure Stempel to take a dive and find new, more suitable contestant in the form of Charles Van Doren (played by Ralph Fiennes), good-looking WASP college professor belonging to American intellectual aristocracy. After few months, disgruntled Stempel unsuccessfully tries to alert public about the rigging but his efforts are fruitless until he meets with ambitious congressional investigator Richard Goodwin (played by Rob Morrow).

Redford again showed his good directorial skills and the recreation of late 1950s is almost flawless. The acting is great - Ralph Fiennes is good choice for charismatic intellectual unable to cope with difficult moral choices; Turturro makes great contrast as victim nobody feels sorry for and Morrow is great as relentless, idealist public crusader. QUIZ SHOW is, therefore, film that shouldn't disappoint the audience. But the same audience probably has few reasons to be very enthusiastic about this piece of cinema. Reason for that lies in antiquated subject matter. Rigging of game shows perhaps represented something quite shocking for 1950s public, but for newer generations, those raised on Watergate, Iran-Contra and Clinton presidency and those who now take media manipulation for granted, this "scandal" looks terribly insignificant. Those viewers could hardly accept Redford's view of these events as something that represented "the loss of American innocence". At least not without some sort of irony, but the irony is something this film terribly lacks. Redford takes everything in this film too seriously, and, in the end, this film looks outdated and quixotic, resembling one of its characters in his last futile crusade against emerging power of television. However, this cinematic effort, although failed and, ironically, better suited for television as a medium, still represents one of more interesting (and rare) examples of socially conscious 1990s Hollywood films.

Copyright 2002 Dragan Antulov

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