review for Cradle Will Rock on AllMovie

Cradle Will Rock (1999)
by Dan Friedman review

From his previous directorial efforts, you know that Tim Robbins is a pretty smart guy who sometimes feels he has to let the audience in on things that he knows and no one else does. That attitude, which is highly noticeable in Cradle Will Rock, is the one detriment to the film. It's very clear where Robbins stands on the issues, and he's never been too subtle about his opinions. Sometimes you half expect to be clubbed in the head with a sign that says "Important Thematic Point." All that aside, Cradle Will Rock is a terrific movie. Focusing as it does on the events surrounding the Federal Theatre during the New Deal, Robbins does a tremendous job condensing the key events of the time into a comprehensive and intertwining narrative (hence the opening disclaimer, "a mostly true story"). The cast are all top-notch in their portrayals, particularly John Cusack as Nelson Rockefeller, Hank Azaria as Marc Blitzstein, and Cherry Jones as Federal Theatre director Hallie Flanagan. Overall, it's difficult to pick a few members of the ensemble out for special praise, as they are all good and Robbins lets them get into their roles with just a touch of the old Hollywood movie star gloss thrown in. The only true exception seems to be Angus MacFadyen as Orson Welles. Not that he doesn't give it the old college try, but comparisons will inevitably be made between Cradle Will Rock's version of Welles and the one put forth by RKO 281 at about the same time. Perhaps that problem lies in the fact that in this film, Welles is just one of many characters we follow, and, being Orson Welles, he just doesn't blend in too well with the others. MacFadyen should be credited with the attempt, but he seems a little out of sync with everyone else. At first glance, the film seems to want to be a comedy but it doesn't play for laughs as such. The plot involves the audience tremendously by shifting between six different stories. The editing is both noticeable and excellent. Usually those two terms are mutually exclusive when it comes to putting a film together but there are so many things happening simultaneously that it becomes fascinating to watch how, when, and why the film cuts from story line to story line. There is some tremendously emotionally stirring stuff here as well, which, depending not only on artistic tastes but political views, greatly affects how the film is received, although, regardless of personal opinions, the characters are sure to generate empathy. The movie is much more successful as entertainment than as a statement, and if Robbins had realized that, his film may have been even greater.