Cradle Will Rock

The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Tim Robbins

REVIEWED: 12-28-99

Given the never-ending hullabaloo over arts funding, Cradle Will Rock is timely. Writer/director Tim Robbins weaves together several stories of Depression-era New York arts battles, including Nelson Rockefeller's demolition of Diego Rivera's anti-capitalist mural at Rockefeller Center and composer Mark Blitzstein's attempt to stage his pro-labor musical The Cradle Will Rock under the auspices of the Federal Theater Project at a time when Congress was investigating the program for its allegedly communist leanings. Robbins is capable of explaining complex political material (Bob Roberts, Dead Man Walking), but here he is strident and patronizing. It doesn't help that the cast of contemporary actors seems smaller than life and that Robbins compounds the problem by reducing most of the characters to cartoons: fatuous plutocrats (including John Cusack's Rockefeller), egotistical artists (Rubén Blades's Rivera, Angus MacFadyen's boorish Orson Welles, whose actions in staging the musical were more heroic than Robbins gives him credit for), and salt-of-the-earth saints (Hank Azaria's Blitzstein, Emily Watson's Olive Stanton, the homeless waif who starred in the play). Stirring and incredible as the climactic, against-all-odds staging of Blitzstein's play is, it serves to remind (as does the film) that anti-authoritarian art is much easier to defend when the artist doesn't ruin it with shrill polemics.

--Gary Susman

Other Films by Tim Robbins
Dead Man Walking

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