Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999

"Cradle Will Rock"

by Richard Schwartz

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Armed with a talented ensemble and a top-notch production team, Tim Robbins attempts to mine rich cinematic territory in "Cradle Will Rock," his whirling treatment of 1930s New York City. The ambitious Robbins aims high in assembling a tapestry featuring a panoply of characters: Mussolini supporters, rich baron types like Nelson Rockefeller, and frustrated left-leaning artists, among them a 22-year-old Orson Welles. But while this intriguing moment in history shows much theatrical potential at the outset, "Cradle Will Rock" ultimately comes off feeling flat and unfocused, leaving the audience questioning the purpose behind this panorama.

It's not for a lack of effort, however. Production values are stellar, and the cast, led by Hank Azaria as musical playwright Marc Blitzstein and John Turturro as struggling immigrant Aldo Silvano, works overtime carrying the burden of a weak, wandering storyline. There is no discernible thread running through the piece, and the "kaleidoscope" approach can only sustain to a point. Bill Murray is misused as a Communist-busting ventriloquist, and Susan Sarandon's vampy turn as a thick-accented Italian fascist borders on the absurd. In fact, more often than not, "Cradle Will Rock" feels like a rambling exercise in mindless nostalgia from a filmmaker yearning for the socialist days past. It's unfortunate because a vibrant setting and talented cast are wasted in the process.

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