“Cradle Will Rock,” directed by Tim Robbins, and starring Hank Azaria,
John Cusack, Bill Murray, Susan Sarandon and Emily Watson. Rated R.
Kernel Code: 2
In “Cradle Will Rock,” Tim Robbins drenches his poseur-leftist
arguments about politics and art in grotesque theatrical spectacle and
overly lush nostalgia.
Not only does Robbins revive a rather arcane cultural moment for his
story - 1930s New York radicals staging a musical celebrating the working
man - he socks it to us with the enthusiasm of a college freshman who
just discovered the “truth” in Marxism.
Based on “a (mostly) true story,” Robbins’ movie follows a theater
group as they stage Marc Blitzstein’s (Hank Azaria) lefty musical on the
It’s a glimpse into President Franklin Roosevelt’s brief experiment to
divert substantial subsidies to the arts in the Federal Theater Project.
The experiment was sabotaged, as the movie shows, by anti-communist
informants (Bill Murray and Joan Cusack) who testify before a senate
Robbins loads his movie with art celebrities from the time - a
22-year-old Orson Welles (an obnoxious Angus Macfadyen) who directs
Blitzstein’s play, critic John Houseman (Cary Elwes) and Diego Rivera
In one of the movie’s better subplots, Nelson Rockefeller (John
Cusack) hires Rivera to paint a lobby mural for his new center. When
Rivera includes the image of Lenin, his sponsor throws him off the
Robbins, the writer/director, deserves credit for raising issues - the
politics of art is the big one - but his movie is self-important and
inflated. His script is a polemic. His brave struggling theater artists
aren’t people; they’re meant to show us how rotten it is we don’t have
more federal funding for the arts.
The strengths of the movie - its convincing peek behind the stage door
- are probably unintentional, considering the bombast of other scenes.
Robbins, in a nod to “My Man Godfrey” (1936) and Preston Sturges, also
throws some anarchic, screwball comedy into this unsatisfying mix.
The acting is steady and theatrical. Emily Watson plays an angelic (is
there any other kind?) waif. Cherry Jones is the theater’s hard-driving
program director. Vanessa Redgrave, Susan Sarandon, Philip Baker Hall and
John Turturro also make appearances.