Director: Tim Robbins
Year Released: 1999
Tim Robbins' political platitudes tend to be either be enlightening (Dead Man Walking) or thoroughly redundant (Bob Roberts). Here's a film - based (sorta) on a true story - about unions and Communism and rich vs. poor that's all represented by "Cradle Will Rock," a play Orson Welles (Angus MacFadyen) and John Houseman (Cary Elwes) direct and produce (respectively) that almost gets shut down by the Actor's Union because of its "Marxist" plot. But Robbins isn't satisfied with just one or two storylines, he wants a dozen, and attempts to thinly spread out his narrative like a half-a-tub of Philly cream cheese over a Manhattan-size bagel. The constantly shifty camera and distinctively pretty set pieces (all photographed by Jean-Yves Escoffier, who has the talent of Almendros and Wexler and Francis and Wong Howe) keep you glued to the screen, but there really isn't much substance, or complex character development - Welles is an egotistical madman, Houseman a smarmy fop, Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) naive and rich, etc etc. Some of the performers are flat - Hank Azaria as the playwright and Emily Watson as a homeless person, while other are just the opposite: somebody needs to tell Vanessa Redgrave to settle down and Susan Sarandon that her Italian accent is about as genuine as Milli Vanilli's singing career. There's just too much crammed in here, and too much cross-cutting (shifting from character to character) to amount to much. I'm not much into moralizing, and Robbins' preachy overtones dominate the last half-hour, comparing the rich with syphilis and modern day Times Square with capitalism at its most insidious. But, oh, last I heard, Robbins (and professional live-in Sarandon) are both millionaires. "Fuck me!" indeed.