As with BETRAYED, critics took director Costa-Gavras to task for not approaching the subject of MUSIC BOX (the prosecution of WWII Nazi war criminals residing in the US) with more passion. Yet, what MUSIC BOX arguably loses by keeping its emotions reined in is more than made up for by a
deliberately detailed, deeply disturbing realism. Jessica Lange plays Ann Talbot, the troubled attorney who helps her father, Michael Laszlo, played by Armin Mueller-Stahl, with what she first assumes to be a case of mistaken identity. A Hungarian immigrant after the war, Mueller-Stahl claimed on
his application for citizenship to have been a farmer. After decades of raising a family in America on a steelworker's pay, Mueller-Stahl is now faced with deportation on the nominal charge of having lied about his former occupation. In fact, he is being sent back to Hungary to be tried for
wartime atrocities he is accused of committing as part of that country's Nazi collaborationist police force. He admits to having been with the police but claims innocence on the atrocity charges, saying he left the force in reaction to the very brutality of which he is accused. Up against
badgering prosecutor Forrest, who is fueled by righteous rage, Lange is nevertheless able to puncture the testimony of key government witnesses. Masterfully she then builds her own case, presenting the deportation as a revenge-motivated sham orchestrated by the Hungarian communist government
against Mueller-Stahl for his disruption of a cultural exchange with the US several years earlier. While preparing her case, though, she discovers a series of large payments--Mueller-Stahl dismisses them as loans--to a fellow immigrant subsequently killed in a hit-and-run accident. As she
investigates these irregularities, she is forced to reevaluate the very foundations of her belief in herself and her family.
Throughout the film, Costa-Gavras chooses not to chastise or harangue. There is nothing shrill about his style here, nor about the performances he elicits from the uniformly excellent cast he has assembled. Rather, MUSIC BOX conveys a feeling of sadness and dread over American innocence, so easily
turned to willful ignorance. Costa-Gavras defines Ann Talbot's dilemma as one shared by the nation.
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- Released: 1989
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: As with BETRAYED, critics took director Costa-Gavras to task for not approaching the subject of MUSIC BOX (the prosecution of WWII Nazi war criminals residing in the US) with more passion. Yet, what MUSIC BOX arguably loses by keeping its emotions reined i… (more)