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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 Greg Muskewitz

"An over-produced play."
2 stars

Adapting a play into a film isn't an unusual thing; just during 1999 we saw it done with everything from "An Ideal Husband" to "[William Shakespeare's] A Midsummer Night's Dream" to the upcoming "Simpatico." Then there were even two films that were about putting on plays: "Rushmore" --a late release for us here in San Diego, and "Illuminata," a period comedy with the bases covered by John Turturro, adapting the play it was based on, directing, and acting in it as well. Those two worked because there was a fluctuation in putting the play on and developing the characters and their lives. Enter exhibits A, "Cradle Will Rock," and B, "Topsy-Turvy." The perpetraitors will be prosecuted.

"Cradle Will Rock" reaches back to the 1930s, telling the story of a large group of people working in or around theatre during the Great Depression, for what writer/director Tim Robbins calls "a (mostly) true story." The Federal Theatre Project has created the WPA, a program to put the unemployed back to work and of which holds those involved in the theatre like a union --15 minute breaks included.

Storylines unspool like an octopus unraveling its tenticles. There's a sociopathic playwright (Hank Azaria), who's hallucinations along with some other things, are never explained. He's written "The Cradle Will Rock" (note the "The" is missing from the actual title) which criticizes the current government. There's an Orson Welles (Angus MacFadyen) who takes on the play with a large cast, including a dedicated Italian-American (John Turturro), a self-appreciating actor (Jamey Sheridan), and a homeless degenerate (Emily Watson). Then we have Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) who hires Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades) who has ties to Margherita Sarfatti (Susan Sarandon), a publicist for Mussolini ("Putting a human face on facism"). Sarfatti is in the process of working a scam out with high-roller Gray Mathers (Phillip Baker Hall) who's married to the Countess La Grange (Vanessa Redgrave). Then there's a political opinionated whistle-blower (Joan Cusack) who has a brief fling with a Vaudeville puppeteer (Bill Murray) who's under the direction of a Federal Theatre big shot (Cherry Jones) who must report to the WPA for flase acusations, etc. If any of this sounds slightly confusing or foggy, the movie is much worse --with many more characters-- and Robbins doesn't take the time to distinguish and lay it out.

At times Robbins has no action occurring on the screen, such as during the beginning when Emily Watson's character wakes up in a movie theater as it plays a newsreel. As she orientates herself, she continues by putting her socks on and gets chased out for vagrancy. That scene itself took an unnecessary 14 minutes to play out, times which could have been cut from the 2-hour, 30-minute running time.

There were so many characters to get aquainted with, many times as soon as they left the screen, you forgot about them. Dialogue and speeches were well written, but the one-dimensionality of the characters and the superficiality of their roles, made it come off extremely unbalanced and on shakey ground. More often than not, there was just too much action on screen at once to focus on or attract the attention of the audience. It was like a pregnant contraction; people, words, actions and ideas scattering all over the chart to an unmeasurable degree, and then like Watson's sock scene, suddenly nothing.

Only a handful of the characters were interesting enough to want to follow their storylines, and even less were likable. John Turturro's struggling family, and his dedication and pride to them stood out, along with the perpetual happiness and maturity of Cherry Jones' supporting role. "Cradle Will Rock," like Robbins' "Dead Man Walking" is an overpraised film, receiving its open arms more for the status of Robbins and his work than for what's actually on screen. Bill Murray also revels in a good supporting role, but with all the roles being supporting and no specific main role to support, in the end, all they do is cancel each other out. Unlike "Rushmore" or "Illuminata," "Cradle" doesn't bother to develop, its only concern is to push forward. Whereas "Rushmore" centered around the boy who put on the play, it was more a story about him and his development which led to the production of his newest opus. It was more than just about the production, as it gave backing and reason. And the same with "Illuminata;" although there were many supporting characters, they supported the main ones and helped to move the story along, building up the development. And even though "Illuminata" would occasionally find itself in the sagging position, the story went through its continuation. Unfortunately, "Cradle Will Rock" found itself in the sagging and contracting positions more times than not.

Final Verdict: C-

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originally posted: 01/15/00 05:57:30
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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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