A neatly executed look at the nature of scandal in the early days of television, and a rich portrait of America in the 1950s, Quiz Show is as sleek and deceptively complicated as the era it portrays. The quiz show scandal becomes a microcosm of attitudes and values in 1950s America, from deep-seated ethnic prejudices to the preoccupation with class and appearance. Dense, ferociously intelligent, and never condescending, the film is also terrifically entertaining, as director Robert Redford and writer Paul Attanasio weave together multiple stories of ambition, cowardice, and disappointment. The film is also notable for its performances, especially John Turturro's self-deprecating yet self-righteous Stempel, and Ralph Fiennes' charming but tragically flawed WASP prince Charles Van Doren. Both actors perfectly convey the kind of ambition that was simultaneously encouraged and manipulated by game show politics, as well as the resulting desperation. Through their performances we see the tensions of an era, the struggle between appearance and reality, success and artifice. Quiz Show was nominated for 4 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Paul Scofield's unforgettable scenes as Van Doren's pained patrician father.
by Rebecca Flint Marx review