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Ambition Overload

Tim Robbins's Cradle Will Rock only feels like it's re-creating the '30s a day at a time

Some of the casting and performance decisions are also less than perfect. For example, Robbins, so good at playing goofy characters, would have made more sense as Rockefeller than does his friend Cusack. For that matter, Robbins's slightly puffy good looks might have made him a better candidate for Welles, too, though by all rights Vincent Philip D'Onofrio, who played Welles in Ed Wood (with voice dubbing by Maurice LaMarche), should have a lock on the character forever. MacFadyen doesn't look much like Welles, but that's not the only problem: He plays him at constant full-tilt flamboyant, as though Welles never relaxed his theatricality for a moment, even in private. The usually perfect Elwes similarly turns Houseman into a caricature, so much so that he and MacFadyen seem to have wandered in from a Preston Sturges film.

The plot thickens: Philip Baker Hall, Susan Sarandon and John Cusack play secondary characters whose exploits only add to the chaos.
Demmie Todd
The plot thickens: Philip Baker Hall, Susan Sarandon and John Cusack play secondary characters whose exploits only add to the chaos.

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Rated R.

In the end, Cradle Will Rock is just too damned much. It's more exhausting than edifying. Robbins seems to be aiming to bring back the '30s through sheer force and momentum, to actually bully us into the period. It's a shame. His heart's in the right place: The issues he brings up are still important; the conflicts of the era are still too much with us; and the activists of that time and place, no matter how dangerously naive they may seem in retrospect, have been too shallowly vilified and mocked for years. Their stories deserve to be told. If only Robbins had told them better.

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