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Overall Rating
2.11

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 11.11%
Average: 3.7%
Pretty Bad70.37%
Total Crap: 14.81%

2 reviews, 15 user ratings


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Mad City
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by Slyder

"Been there, done that, but one should still listen"
2 stars

Costa-Gavras has distinguished himself very well throughout his career as a political and socially conscious filmmaker. With movies like Z, State of Siege and Missing completely establishing his reputation, Gavras has dabbled in all kinds of political and social ideas very effectively as he did in these 3 movies, but sometimes misfiring on others. Mad City is a movie that has a lot of things going for it, but it’s due to several absurdities that occur within the story that it ultimately blurs the central message about the pros and cons of media exploitation, and how it can ultimately destroy a man’s life who was already on dire straits before the true shit hit the fan.

It also doesn’t help the fact that the movie starts wobbling and stumbling on its own two feet from the beginning. At the Museum of Natural History, disgraced reporter Max Brackett (Dustin Hoffman) is covering a humdrum piece regarding the Museum and its head honcho in charge Mrs. Banks (Blythe Danner). Entered recently fired Museum security guard Sam Baily (John Travolta), who tries to persuade Mrs. Banks to get his job back. When she refuses, all hell breaks loose as he breaks out his shotgun and a bag full of dynamite. Max, who was in the bathroom when the kerfuffle was just about to break, has two choices: call the cops, or have his assistant Laurie (Mia Kirshner) patch him through the local news station and start covering the soon-to-unfold story… And then call the cops. Obviously, since Max is such a cynical sleazebag willing to whore himself for a story like this, he’s going to choose the latter. Sigh…

Anyways, Sam loses it with Mrs. Banks and fires a warning shot… only to accidentally hit his former coworker and friend Cliff Williams (Bill Nunn). As Laurie manages to rescue Cliff outside, Max ultimately is discovered by Sam since Sam ended up seeing the coverage on TV. Sam takes Max, Mrs. Banks and several children whom were visiting the museum hostage. Max however thinks quickly and places himself on Max’s side and gives him a way out by trying to use the media and paint Max as a frustrated man who was victimized and pushed over the edge by the system, while under the table Max tries to rebuild his career and re-launch himself into the spotlight with the story. As the police are outside Max tries to spin this one good on Max’s favor, but as time passes, the stakes go higher and soon every network on the media tries to get its hands on the story, for better or worse, in order to get an exclusive, or something to get their ratings high up the air at Sam’s and even Max’s expense.

This film has several things going against it. One of them of course being that the whole media exploitation has been already covered before in better movies like Dog Day Afternoon, Network and Ace in the Hole (from which the film draws its main inspiration). This obstacle should’ve been easy to overcome, but unfortunately director Costa-Gavras blows one good chunk of the film’s credibility by taking an utterly cynical and excessive point of view of the media and the fueling of mass hysteria. As a result, several scenes that should have been handled with subtlety to become effective, are instead hammered home with such extremism that it borders on self-parody. It may be credible that some sensationalist outlets will go and try accuse Sam of racism because the man he shot was black, but to present things like having reporters get into his room without permission, stalking Sam’s family as well as Cliff’s, and hiring false witnesses to manufacture news is just plain ridiculous. Not to mention that the military radicals, the pro-Sam T-shirts and even friggin’ food stands (what was the bloody point of THAT?!) just make this ham-fisted approach look even messier. The constant twists involving Captain Alvin Lemke (Ted Levine) who’s pretty much getting hamstrung by FBI Agent Dobbins (Raymond J. Barry), also amounts only to a batch of cheap shocks.

It also doesn’t help that some of the media moguls are nothing but a bunch of vile robotic assholes with no fleshed out motivations. Ethics and journalistic integrity are thrown right out of the window almost immediately, and sometimes with such ridicule and foolishness that one ends up scoffing at these people’s repulsive lack of morals. Only the character of Kevin Hollander (Alan Alda) comes close to becoming a full-bred character, and even he’s an egomaniacal piece of shit; responsible for burying Max’s career after Max exploded at the utter stupidity of his questions on a story involving an accident years ago. A lot of people here are shit-bags, Max included. His assistant Laurie goes from being a naďve assistant to a traitorous bitch who switches sides with Kevin like switching pantyhose. But of all those people, at least Max seems to have a bit of consciousness. He knows and crosses several lines dangerously in order to get his story and restore his reputation, but at the same time, knows that there are moments when common sense and humanity have to prevail. Some cynics will see this as contrived, but even a whoremonger like Max will have to come to his senses and realize the damage that he and the out-of-control news media have done. Dustin Hoffman nails the character perfectly as a man whom is in conflict as he tries to revive his career while at the same time try and keep Sam in check so that he doesn’t go ballistic yet again and give him and the hostages he’s taken some sort of chance.

Which brings us to the character of Sam itself. John Travolta does his best with the character, and he certainly is effective here. Sam is pretty much what you can call a “working class loser”; never finished high school, rejected at the Air Force due to that, and forced to take a job at the Museum with a shitty salary in order to try and sustain his family. Due to the way that Sam is manipulated by Max and the media, his character may strike some viewers as being stupid or even a mentally retarded man (and of course, the film’s lack of subtlety doesn’t help that either), but Sam is far from being that. Yes, he is pretty much an ignorant person, but this is a person that has been stepped on his entire life. One may argue that he brought this to himself by not finishing school, but despite this, he knows that he has a family to feed, and when the only thing that was giving him is main source of survival is taken from him, he will become desperate and will do desperate things in order to get it back. And he’s willing to even rig the entire museum with dynamite in order to be heard.

Unfortunately, the trail that the film chooses is highly predictable as we can easily figure out that the denouement will be either Sam giving himself up or ending up dead. This flaw ultimately turns fatal in a film that already was struggling to convince the audience of the seriousness of its subject matter. Hell, the supporting players are also mere cardboard cutouts or not fleshed out enough to make them remotely interesting. Blythe Danner looks incredibly hot for her age as Mrs. Banks, the director the Museum, but her character, despite playing a pivotal role in Sam’s life, ends up disappearing into the background almost completely once Sam loses it. Sam’s wife Lucinda (Jenny Baily) also ends up being a tad superficial as well since we never figure out how could she have married such a loser. Director Costa-Gavras and writers Tom Matthews and Eric Williams just simply blew it here since the film ends up being a messy and predictable piece that brings nothing new and instead seems to have borrowed its ideas from better films, and making a piss-poor job at applying them here.

In the end, this film is for the most part watchable, but it ends up collapsing under the weight of its flaws and the central messages get blurred due to its excesses. It’s a real shame because at this day and age, the media is being used more than ever to manipulate and exploit viewers into a skewed image of the world, where journalistic integrity and ethics are getting tossed out and senseless sensationalism and exploitation are the call of the day. Every generation needs a movie to make us wake up and condemn and satirize these kinds of things. Sadly, this film is not one of them, and coming from a man of Costa-Gavras’s caliber, that’s a huge disappointment. 2-5.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=468&reviewer=235
originally posted: 07/19/08 16:20:56
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User Comments

7/22/08 Catalina Khalaj Actors with huge potential used in a story that does not manage to render its own point. 3 stars
6/13/08 PAUL SHORTT COMPELLING ANALYSIS OF THE MODERN MEDIA 4 stars
2/21/05 R.C.F. naive story told too harmless for being a thriller, but the acting does work for me anyway 4 stars
2/08/05 Jeff Anderson I HATE THIS FILM! Though J.T.'s character is a sweet guy who made a mistake, D.H.'s a jerk! 1 stars
5/24/04 F.M. Kat Not that great of a movie. 2 stars
5/09/03 mr. Pink A very simplistic and na¨ve moive. See Dog Day Afternoon instead 2 stars
3/20/03 Jack Sommersby Trots out the same old issues with predictibility. Hoffman, though, is excellent. 2 stars
12/12/02 Vince A tedious piece of crap. Period. 1 stars
3/20/01 Anuradha amazing movie 4 stars
6/15/99 Dylan What a waste of real fucking talent. Why cant Hoffman choose really good films these days? 2 stars
4/24/99 lucas jackson okay this is a thriller,fuck that 2 stars
1/25/99 Chloe Marie Elestenogoph (clatter@hotmail.com) This bit the big one. John Travolta is a sucky actor. 2 stars
11/24/98 Fred No more reporter movies, Jesus!!!!!!!! 1 stars
9/23/98 Jason Rosenbaum Jawdropping bad. I feel asleep. 1 stars
9/05/98 Jon Liked Travolta, didn't like the movie. 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  07-Nov-1997 (PG-13)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  08-Oct-1998




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