Cradle Will Rock

Stunningly cinematic and audacious on every level, writer-director Tim Robbins's look at the collision of the Depression-era art world and politics may well be a masterpiece; at the very least it confirms that Robbins is now, officially, a major American auteur. The basic story (it helps to know a little history) involves the government-funded Federal Theater...read more

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Reviewed by Steve Simels
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Stunningly cinematic and audacious on every level, writer-director Tim Robbins's look at the collision of the Depression-era art world and politics may well be a masterpiece; at the very least it confirms that Robbins is now, officially, a major American

auteur. The basic story (it helps to know a little history) involves the government-funded Federal Theater group, home to Orson Welles (Angus McFadyen) and gay composer Marc Blitzstein (Hank Azaria), whose pro-labor musical will be shut down on the eve of its opening, courtesy of red-baiting

congressmen. Around that, there's a dizzying succession of subplots involving (among other things) the stormy relationship between Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) and radical artist Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades); a passel of American businessmen funding Mussolini's war machine; and paranoid,

right-wing ventriloquist Tommy Crickshaw (Bill Murray, in the role of his life), whose dummy walks out on him. Obviously, we're not talking documentary-style realism here, and Robbins stages it all in a virtuosic style that splits the difference between artsy and immediate, up to and including the

taking-it-to-the-streets performance of the titular musical that's the film's thrilling finale. Hell, let's not mince words — it's downright Welles-ian. Robbins also gets sensational character performances from the likes of Susan Sarandon, Vanessa Redgrave, Emily Watson and John Turturro, and

throws in a sneakily erotic scene at Rivera's loft that suggests a familiarity with Henry Miller. Of course, it doesn't hurt that recent events (read: the flap over the Brooklyn Museum's "Sensation" show) have made the picture's themes more than a little relevant; in fact, Robbins nails the point,

brilliantly, in the film's last moment, a tracking shot down contemporary Broadway that's the most genuinely earned bit of dramatic irony in recent movie memory.

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  • Released: 1999
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Stunningly cinematic and audacious on every level, writer-director Tim Robbins's look at the collision of the Depression-era art world and politics may well be a masterpiece; at the very least it confirms that Robbins is now, officially, a major American… (more)

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