Mother Night (1996)

Genres - Drama, Spy Film  |   Sub-Genres - Anti-War Film, Psychological Drama, Satire, Unglamorized Spy Film, War Spy Film  |   Release Date - Nov 1, 1996 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 110 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Nick Sambides, Jr.

Mother Night is as enigmatic and ultimately pointless as the life of the man its story centers upon. It's crafted with care and features a quite capable performance by Nolte, but you never quite get a sense that the film knows what it's about. Is it that Campbell is ultimately infected by poisonous Nazi hatred? Has he finally become a Nazi? Or was he always a cipher and his is a story of a man who never really takes a stand? Or is he an example of how men can deceive themselves and have hidden identities? You get glimmers of all of the above, but no clear picture. The film might have worked better if it carried more of the vaguely absurdist air of its source, a Kurt Vonnegut Jr. novel based on the true story of Campbell. Vonnegut's work often features cipher-ish characters caught in the backwash of historic times. His stories' greatest joys often are in the telling. He is a master at capturing ambiguity, but a film camera is not. Director Keith Gordon deserves credit for bringing such a difficult story to the screen, but its questions nag. Did Campbell hang himself out of guilt, or was he just tired? If he wanted to clear himself, why didn't he reveal his spying? Vonnegut once summarized the moral of Mother Night: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." Perhaps so, but you won't know it from this movie.