Sunday, March 11, 2012
Underrated Showcase Sundays: Quiz Show
Underrated Showcase Sundays is a pretty straight-forward: every Sunday I'll shed some light on a film which I think doesn't get enough love. The showcase will be largely unstructured (well, compared to my other reviews) and will often just be random thoughts. It doesn't matter if I've seen it before or not. Tonight's instalment is one I've seen twice before, and had to go to a whole different country to get myself a copy of it on DVD (that sound more dramatic than what it actually happened).
Right in the midst of my huge obsession with Ralph Fiennes, I found two films of his that I had never heard of before: Strange Days hiding on the thriller shelf at Blockbuster and Quiz Show, which I queued up. Each of them were distinctly great films, offering a look at Fiennes just after his work in Schindler's List - a.k.a the best performance of all time. While Strange Days had him playing the fast-talking, smooth yet kinda seedy street hustler, Quiz Show has him playing a role completely different to anything he has ever done: the vulnerable, well-to-do pretty boy who acts his way into the heart of millions. If you look at Fiennes' filmography, you'll find it rich with varied characters and films, but one performance and film that sticks out for me the most is his Charles van Doren in Quiz Show.
I'm not entirely sure about how Quiz Show fared back in its day...I probably wasn't even a little sea monkey back then. But I know for sure that this would be the kind of movie that they'd laud as 'Oscar bait' these days: a stylish film telling a true story that we all can't believe ever happened, with an equally stylish cast to match. However, back in 1994, while it was nominated for four Oscars (Best Picture), it had to contend with the mega year of movies: Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Three Colours: Red, Four Weddings and a Funeral and the once flopped but now classic The Shawshank Redemption. It is probably because of that fact that Quiz Show, the flawlessly done story of the Quiz Show scandals of the 1950s, has not enjoyed the post-1994 success that it should have. Which is a shame, because this film would work as a perfect companion piece to The Social Network - all about faking it until you make it, landing yourself in hot water, trying not to be the bad guy. Yes, it is The Social Network for before computers were but a fragment of ones futuristic imagination.
Quiz Show succeeds on almost every level: the script, the way the narrative is presented, the direction from Robert Redford (whose career seems to be slowly declining), but especially the great performances. It is hard to pick the stand out: Ralph Fiennes succeeds with his charm, his vulnerability and of course his un-earthly good looks that the camera is obviously making love to; Paul Scofield is perfect, helping his son along in a tricky situation; John Turturro breaks hearts as the misunderstood awkward genius Herb Stempel; even Martin Scorsese, of all people, gets a cameo. The film reaches a high point where Charles van Doren gives his "flying on borrowed wings" speech before Congress. It is such a beautiful end to a surprisingly dirty movie, showing what really went on behind the seemingly harmless quiz shows. The verdict is that you must see this movie - it definitely ranks as one of the very best that 1994 had to offer, and it had sure had some competition.
What I got: