Mother Night

Nick Nolte does his best acting in years as Howard Campbell, an American writer living in Germany during World War II who spies on the Nazis by pretending to be one and ends up confused about good and evil. After all, his sexy German wife, Helga (Sheryl Lee), and her cute sister, Resi (Kirsten Dunst), think his genocidal rap is just dandy.

Welcome to Kurt Vonnegut country as director Keith Gordon (A Midnight Clear) offers his take on the master's risky 1962 novel. There's a reason why Vonnegut's books, Slaughterhouse-Five excepted, aren't filmed: They're a bitch. Credit the fearless Gordon for maintaining Vonnegut's delicate balance of moral gravity and twisted humor. Any movie that has Campbell in prison for war crimes and trading repartee with Adolf Eichmann is a high-wire act. Gordon stumbles along the way, but buoyed by Robert B. Weide's sharp script, Tom Richmond's evocative camera work and a first-rate cast (John Goodman, Alan Arkin and David Strathairn deserve special note), the director comes through with a daring, darkly comic game of Let's Pretend.

From The Archives Issue 378: September 16, 1982