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Cradle Will Rock

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Cradle Will Rock

Starring: Emily Watson, Hank Azaria
Director: Tim Robbins
Rated: R
RunTime: 132 Minutes
Release Date: December 1999
Genre: Drama

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---
3.  Jerry Saravia read the review ---
4.  UK Critic read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

THE CRADLE WILL ROCK tells the "(mostly) true story" of a federally funded musical of the same name that was shut down by the government on the day it was to open. It later became well known after its director, Orson Welles (Angus MacFadyen), became famous.

It's the 1930s -- the time of the Great Depression. Among the many government public works activities is the Federal Theater Project, which employs out-of-work actors as well as stage crew. "The Cradle Will Rock" by playwright Marc Blitzstein (Hank Azaria) tells a pro-union story, which infuriates Congressman Dies (Harris Yulin), among others. They suspect Communist infiltration in the arts, and Chairman Dies's subcommittee holds hearings on the subject.

This might lead one to believe that the film is a hard-hitting indictment of politics run amuck, but it isn't. Writer and director Tim Robbins has hired half of his Hollywood friends to appear in his three-ring circus of a movie. Everything is rushed. Actors run onto the set, rattle off their lines and run off again. Robbins then quickly cuts to an entirely different group of actors telling another part of the story. Adding to the unrealistic, circus-like atmosphere of the production is a pair of lovers who have a propensity to sneak away, remaining in view of the others and the camera, as they disrobe and have enthusiastic sex.

Among the many stereotyped characters in the cluttered script are: A giddy liberal socialite, Countess LaGrange (Vanessa Redgrave), who gets her strike news delivered on a silver platter by her servants. An anti-Communist ventriloquist, Tommy Crickshaw (Bill Murray), who is forced by his employer (the federal government in the form of the WPA) to tutor two no-talent, would-be ventriloquists. An alcoholic director (Welles), who is so hyperactive that his feet rarely touch the ground. And an artist, Diego Rivera (Rubén Blades), who insists on putting an unauthorized image on Lenin in his large mural inside a skyscraper owned by Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack).

The rest of the large and talented cast includes Joan Cusack, Cary Elwes, Philip Baker Hall, Cherry Jones, Susan Sarandon, Jamey Sheridan, John Turturro, Emily Watson, Paul Giamatti, Barnard Hughes, Barbara Sukowa, John Carpenter and Gretchen Mol. Almost all of them overact in their brief time in front of the camera. None of the characters are compelling, and, if the movie had aired on television, I'm sure I would have turned it off long before it was over.

Very much in the spirit of ILLUMINATA, which opened this past summer, the fast-paced CRADLE WILL ROCK takes a comedic backstage look at the production of a play. And like ILLUMINATA, although it has its moments, it never comes together in anything approaching a satisfying whole. I would be inclined to suggest that you just wait for the video and use the fast forward to get to the good parts, but this would require you to fast forward through almost the entire picture, making it not worth the cost.

CRADLE WILL ROCK runs a long 2:15. It is rated R for language, nudity and sex and would be acceptable for teenagers.

Copyright © 1999 Steve Rhodes

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