Cradle Will Rock
(1999)











Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 12 Minutes


Reviewer: Dale
Grade: A-

Tim Robbins makes good movies. He also makes very political ones. But I don't mind that. Politics and religion are two areas that we are not supposed to discuss, right? Well, why not? When you get right down to it, those things that people hold most sacred, those views that most people guard most closely, are the ones that make up a big part of who we are. After all, who are you, really, if not what you believe in?

"The Cradle Will Rock" is about all the big ideas. It is about unions, and power, and money and politics and creativity and creative freedoms. It is about things of the mind. It is a story of the government and political ideals and Communism and dangerous subjects. And it is rousing and rallying and very entertaining. It is filmed in glorious, old-fashioned style, yet with the visual experimentation of a P.T. Anderson or Orson Welles film.

Which makes perfect sense, since it is, in part, about Welles. It concerns Orson Welles and a troupe of actors as they attempt to put on a muscical that is about Unionization. The play is sponsored by the Federal Theater Association, which (in the 1930's) caused plays to be put on with full government support. During the Depression it was one of the only ways that people could afford to put plays on.

But how can you put on a play attacking capitalism and yet fund it with the money of a capitalist government? The film is full of ironic little touches like that. At one point, their theater shut down, the actors and musicians learn that if they perform this "Pro-Union" production, the Actors and Musicians Union will kick them out and make it impossible for them to get work.

There are dozens of characters in this piece, and each of them is a meaty role for the actors involved. Actors as diverse as Bill Murray, Susan Sarandon, Philip Baker Hall and Emily Watson are all given a wealth of meaty characters to sink into. And each of them gives their all. The ones that most impress: Hank Azaria as a driven writer who is worried that the director in charge of his material has no idea what he is trying to say with it, Emily Watson as a homeless actress looking for a big break, and Bill Murray as a Communist-paranoid puppeteer who, at one point, believes that even his puppet is guilty of being a Red.

The one main problem I had with the film was that it made its points, fantastic as they are, just a little too often. The film seems to be hitting us over the head with the material at certain points rather than letting us explore it for ourselves. But I did admire the way each character was shown in an equal light. Each character has their good points as well as their bad and you are allowed to judge and think for yourself.

Still, this quibble is not enough to keep me from recommending "The Cradle Will Rock", and recommending it rather highly. It is a movie that will entertain you, teach you about events of the past, and make you think.