Monday, June 07, 2010

"Quiz Show" (1994) - Movie Review

Robert Redford’s “Quiz Show” is not alone the commentary on early day celebrity status attaining its eventual snow ball in the 1950s but it is that and many other things. Few of them being the admirations, adulations, erudition, betrayal, trust and ridiculous amount of money an average person could lay their hands on. This is the kind of film which understands the need to dig deeper than to religiously and uninterestingly follow the uncovering of a rigged game show. It goes to the human sociology and the psychology developed from this game show on early TV days.

Twenty-one was the game’s name. A quiz show which had the contestants battle in their intellectual ability playing week after week to keep on going for money, fame and the thrill. Based on true events, the film begins with Herb Stempel (John Turturo) being on a roll with his ability to topple his opponents and keep America noticing him. He epitomes the hope of an average citizen and that of the network by keeping his ratings up. The ratings though is slowly coming down and that means he needs to be booted out. The program’s sponsor Geritol Tonic thinks so and so does the chief broadcasting officer of the then NBC. They ask Herb to bow down and leave. More than that he is asked to flunk one of the easiest question for that time which is to name the film which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1955. It is one of Herb’s favourite film, “Marty”. It travels beyond flunking and into humiliation and embarrassment.

This is a display of likable and charming intellectuals than the regular slobs. The days for average Joe has declined with the not so great looking Herb. The able contestant and the charmer would be Charles Von Doren (Ralph Fiennes), son of literary Professor Mark Von Doren (Paul Scofield) and the nephew of Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Carl Von Doren. He has the right background, the blonde hair, sharp physique and a smile that could bring down the audience. He has seen this show and comes there to audition for another quizzing show. Al Freedman (Hank Azaria) spots him and reports to the producer of Twenty-one, Dan Enright (David Paymer) who can see this stunning fellow oomph the show. Stempel would hit the ground to this man and then comes the real catch, the answers are provided for further games to develop a fan base for Charles. This is celebrity at works.

Charles initially hesitates on this foul play though at the wake of this new medium, there is a line of ethics that has not been clearly drawn. Movie media is fiction at works to woo its audience. It is formulated, developed and produced gaging the interest the people longed for. The entertainment is a clear business of giving what the people want in one form or another. How different is television? Television fiction drama is one thing but how does it play for game shows where real people entered to win something beyond their regular paycheck? The people were naive but roared for popular faces. Charles is asked a familiar question which startles him though he wins. Suddenly he is on the heights of jubilation, something other than the money has grabbed him which is the fame.

Charles becomes the face that America loves and soon he has no problem getting questions and answers well before the show. Though a thoroughly well educated man, as any son idolizing their father, he wants his approval, attention and celebration of him from his father. Charles father Mark is presented by Paul Scofield with an elegance and a suavity which gives snobs a high respect. Mark is right to the point and his humour is classy harmless sarcasm. He has expectation on his son to be a family man as academically he is happy with him. He does not care about the new status his son has achieved. Charles yearns for that to be noted more than his academics.

In this mix comes Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow), a young and aspiring Harvard Law School graduate in to US Congress of Legislatives to probe on this quiz show. He finds Charles particularly charismatic than others might see him. They have a mutual respect for the intellectual ability they both share. Dick in a way adores this man but knows that he is not seeing everything. He begins his investigation and eventually runs into the disgruntled, humiliated and complaining Herb whom John Turturo depicts as an undeserving champion. This leads to finally unraveling the scheme.

Redford brings everything together and even gets Martin Scorsese as the tycoon of the Pharmaceuticals company Geritol to give short but powerful performance. He deals with more than the subject of celebrity. It goes to tell how the idea of corporation was well deep rooted to throw its simple naive principles under the bus and comes out more than clean and how it keeps repeating till date. Their appearance might be slimy but they rule the floor where every one stands. This is a drama constructing on its characters and finally releasing the ethical and moral fraudulent behaviour these contestants let them do to themselves and the millions others. The corporate runners know the evil as what its for and hence know the way to deal with it to themselves and in when they are in jeopardy. It is the everyday people facing the choice who assumes to be confused. They have already made the choice to go for the gain. When the lights are on and when there is more than money and approval at stake, the wake is imminent with terrible consequences. “Quiz Show” is an exercise on that bringing some splendid story telling and performances.

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