Synopsis by Mark Deming
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once summarized the moral of his novel Mother Night like so: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." In Keith Gordon's film adaptation of Vonnegut's book, Nick Nolte stars as Howard W. Campbell Jr., an American playwright living in Germany shortly before the U.S. entered World War II. Campbell is essentially apolitical; if he sometimes hobnobs with Nazi leaders, it's only because they're VIPs in his time, place, and social circle, and he cares for little besides his writing and his beloved wife Helga (Sheryl Lee). One day, Campbell is approached by Frank Wirtenan (John Goodman), an American intelligence agent who offers Campbell an unusual assignment -- a position as a radio commentator beaming Nazi propaganda broadcasts to U.S. troops across Europe, which in fact feature coded information that will aid the American war effort. Campbell agrees, but succeeds all too well -- he makes such a convincing Nazi sympathizer that at the end of the war, he finds it impossible to convince people he wasn't really a Nazi, and even those inclined to believe him feel he aided Germany as much as the Allies. After 15 years as a recluse in New York City, a racist tabloid prints a story about Campbell, and in 1961 he discovers himself behind bars, awaiting trial as a war criminal. Besides Nick Nolte, who gives an outstanding performance, the supporting cast also includes Alan Arkin, Frankie Faison, and Kirsten Dunst; Kurt Vonnegut Jr. also makes a cameo appearance.
American [nationality], Germany, playwright, Nazi, propaganda, assignment, code [encryption], intelligence [gov't], radio-commentator, war-crimes