Cradle Will Rock

Bomb Rating: 

Tim Robbins' bleeding-heart film about the Federal Theater Project of the 1930s ends with a quaint shot of old New York turning into new New York, as if to say that the socialism that was the Federal Theater Project was responsible for all the lovely billboard advertising that Times Square has become.

At least, I think that's what he's saying -- and that confusion is exactly what's wrong with this film. Is modern Times Square a good or a bad thing? Although he's cutting away to the theater district, we end up staring right into the faces of all those neon billboards, which are repugnant by any rational aesthetic standard. Is this the so-called triumph that the "Cradle Will Rock" production led to? Or is he saying that we can thank socialist causes for the rampant capitalism we have today?

As we all know, writer/director Robbins and his wife, Susan Sarandon, are liberals of the highest order. The climax of this film is having the actors of "Cradle Will Rock" stand up and act despite the threat of losing their jobs during what seems to be the beginning of a Red scare. This is clearly a workers' tale. The higher you go up the social ladder, the more ridiculous the characters become.

At the bottom of the ladder are people like Olive Stanton (Emily Watson), a starving, wannabe actress, and Marc Blitzstein, a starving, wannabe playwright. Midway are people like John Houseman (Cary Elwes) and Orson Welles (Angus MacFadyen), who are portrayed as buffoons. At the top are people like Nelson Rockerfeller (John Cusack) and Gray Mathers (Philip Baker Hall), who are anti-intellectual industrialists. With that final cut, Robbins appears to be celebrating the fact that acting and capitalism now happily co-exist. In other words, thank God somebody fought way back then so I can afford my Manhattan penthouse.

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