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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 13.79%
Average: 29.31%
Pretty Bad: 12.07%
Total Crap: 10.34%

6 reviews, 22 user ratings

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Cradle Will Rock, The
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by iF Magazine

"The show must go on."
4 stars

Nineteen ninety nine has been a year of hope that not only originality but actual social consciousness may yet be found in big-studio releases. To their credit, there are certain issues that the majors are willing to tackle, education, racism and corporate corruption being a few of the most visible. Still, earlier this year, it was a welcome eyebrow-raiser when Warner Bros. brought forth a critique of U.S. involvement in the Gulf War in the form of THREE KINGS.

Now, in the waning days of the millennium, we have director/writer Tim Robbins’ CRADLE WILL ROCK, a fact-based drama so cheerfully agitprop that, even with its enormous big-name cast, if Touchstone’s logo weren’t affixed to the credits, you’d swear it was an independent production to its core. Robbins crams a few zillion characters and subplots into his examination of the 1937 production of Marc Blitzstein’s musical THE CRADLE WILL ROCK and the demise of the Federal Theatre. Occasionally, the structure becomes precarious and the dialogue a bit on the nose, but the film maintains coherence in both narrative and outlook, along with a healthy sense of humor.

CRADLE is broken into three sections, each four months apart. In 1936, the U.S. Government’s Works Projects Administration is trying to combat unemployment with a series of federally-funded programs, including theatrical productions both on Broadway and on tour. Under the direction of savvy, compassionate Hallie Flanagan (Cherry Jones), the Federal Theatre has an annual audience of 25 million. Meanwhile, writer/composer Marc Blitzstein (Hank Azaria) is so hungry that he’s having hallucinations of being hectored by both his late wife and Bertold Brecht, who urge him to write about how everyone, in all walks of life, must prostitute themselves simply to survive. The result is his musical, THE CRADLE WILL ROCK.

Flanagan adores the libretto’s blunt examination of the issues of the day and puts the project into the hands of producer John Houseman (Cary Elwes) and director Orson Welles (Angus MacFadyen), who may strangle each other before opening night. Among those caught in the tumult are a former streetwalker turned actress (Emily Watson) and an actor (John Turturro) with a wife (Barbara Sukowa) and four kids to support. A WPA clerk (Joan Cusack) and a ventriloquist (Bill Murray), both unhappy with their employers for different reasons, seek to denounce the Federal Theatre before a Congressional committee. Steel magnate Mathers (Philip Baker Hall) cozies up to Mussolini’s comely emissary (Susan Sarandon), while Mathers’ wife the Countess (Vanessa Redgrave) delightedly runs off to hobnob with artistic types. Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) commissions artwork for the Rockefeller Center lobby from Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades), ignoring the artist’s political vision. Congressional Committee Chairman Dies (Harris Yulin) sees Red messages everywhere, even in a kiddie show called REVOLT OF THE BEAVERS.

In the huge cast, Jones stands out as a beacon of wry sanity and Redgrave is delightful as the rich fan who knows exactly what she can get away with. Murray, as a performer being driven crazy when he’s forced to teach no-talents, is marvelously eloquent (and funny) watching his hapless pupils in appalled silence.

Mind-boggling as it sounds, Robbins actually manages to get most of these threads to integrate into a lively, comprehensive tapestry. There are moments when the storytelling gets lumpy and segments where points are hammered harder than necessary (we understand that Mathers is a philistine well before the film is finished telling us about it), but overall, Robbins’ scope, energy and conviction carry us along. He has some segments that are real triumphs, such as the sequence (taken from actual transcripts) in which Flanagan testifies before the congressional committee in an attempt to retain her funding.

There is also a finale that underscores CRADLE’s message in a manner that would have gladdened Blitzstein and Flanagan’s hearts while achieving a sense of thrilling theatricality in its own right – we actually wish we were in the house with the audience and performers.

CRADLE doesn’t always flow smoothly, but it succeeds in drawing intelligent parallels with today’s political scene while getting us to believe both to cheer for a united working class and the perennial notion that the show must go on. This is no small accomplishment.-- ABBIE BERNSTEIN

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originally posted: 02/23/01 15:42:45
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User Comments

2/23/11 Paco Red bastards are great! 1 stars
8/16/10 Fgplex "Strange muses"? That was Brecht! Do you use Internets? 5 stars
7/08/10 brian Written & directed by Tim Robbins, who desperately needed someone to pare down his vision. 3 stars
10/24/03 laurabetty a bit confusing at times, but enjoyable 3 stars
3/24/03 Jack Sommersby A collage of too many subplots and not enough cohesion to any of them. 1 stars
2/12/03 Gerardo Raschcovsky A movie to be seen now, days before a new war 5 stars
5/27/02 PeterGibbons Who is this Vidmar fuck? Go get in line for StarWhores III, you blob. Talk about krunk! 4 stars
5/03/01 BrainPan Very enjoyable. And any movie with Tenacious D is instantly credible. 4 stars
7/25/00 Monday Morning Overblown, incoherent, amazingly annoying. Waste of time and money. 1 stars
1/29/00 Ami the Wonderbread AHHHH. For anyone who loves theatre and the 30's, this rocks. 5 stars
1/24/00 Cibeus It wasn't entertaining, and it wasn't clear enough to be educational. Nice cast, well shot. 3 stars
1/21/00 H'woog bigshot Horrible beyond belief. Please Robbins, go away forever 1 stars
1/15/00 Kevin Cho FANTASTIC Cast! But Tim Burton has to work on flaws and approaching controversy. 3 stars
1/13/00 casey absolutely terrific 5 stars
1/06/00 Allen Konigsberg Best Sign Armageddon should have come at Y2K: Robbins still gets gigs. 1 stars
1/01/00 Raymondo Intricate fascinating tapestry, but Robbins and cast made it look easy. 5 stars
1/01/00 jenn "Blu Smrf" amazing film! art for the big screen, one of the best movies of the year! 5 stars
12/31/99 Malbert Some good parts...Redgrave&Azaria&Turturro were great! what happened to cary elwes??? 3 stars
12/19/99 Thomas Pompous and painfully self-congratulatory. 1 stars
12/19/99 Mr Showbiz Consistently tops itself with marvellous ensemble acting and surprising character reveals. 5 stars
12/11/99 Jon Burdick Big effort...has flaws, but so did Hamlet. 5 stars
12/10/99 JM Incoherent screwup of a fascinating story 2 stars
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  25-Dec-1999 (R)



Directed by
  Tim Robbins

Written by
  Tim Robbins

  Bill Murray
  John Turturro
  Vanessa Redgrave
  Susan Sarandon
  Emily Watson

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