This film seems to exist for one dubious purpose: to snag an Oscar nomination for Jessica Lange. She plays a divorced Chicago lawyer whose devoted father (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a Hungarian immigrant, has been accused of unspeakable crimes during World War II. Now he must stand trial, and Lange will defend him. Don’t expect a serious probe of the pathology of men who could murder Jews and then happily go home to their families. That might make an insightful movie. This one is concerned with letting Lange run the gamut of is-he-guilty-is-he-not emotions. There’s an actress here, but no role.
This potboiler reunites director Costa-Gavras and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who trivialized the plague of white supremacy last year in Betrayed. Eszterhas has merely recycled the courtroom theatrics of his hit Jagged Edge and slapped on a Holocaust theme. Real-life tragedy has been used to hype cheap melodrama. It’s more than offensive; it’s vile.
Roger & Me: The season’s only bang-on perfect film is a savagely witty documentary that takes telling measure of the human devastation wrought by Reaganomics. Of course, documentaries are usually box-office poison. Why pay inflated movie-ticket prices for something you can snooze in front of for free at home?
The answer is magazine journalist turned filmmaker Michael Moore. As producer, director, writer and protagonist (he’s the Me in the title), Moore proves himself a gifted satirist whose rage is filtered through a waggish sensibility that gives complex issues a startling clarity.
Three years ago, Moore returned to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, to find that General Motors had closed its plants and laid off 30,000 workers. He decided to make a film in which he would confront GM chairman Roger Smith and persuade him to visit Flint to see why Money magazine had chosen it as “the worst place to live in America.”
Moore’s hilarious efforts to meet Smith are thwarted by security guards, country-club employees and flacks hired to disguise corporate coldbloodedness as good old American initiative. Professional cheerleaders such as Pat Boone, Anita Bryant, Newlywed Game host Bob Eubanks, TV evangelist Robert Schuller and a Miss Michigan about to become Miss America preach inanely about adversity as an opportunity. Ronald Reagan arrives to take a dozen laid-off GM workers for pizza. His advice? Relocate in Texas.
You laugh at this all-too-real absurdity, but it’s a dark laughter deepened by such brutal ironies as a parade’s passing boarded-up stores and unemployed and homeless people and Smith’s delivering a Christmas message about generosity as a family he left jobless is being evicted. Moore is exposing the ravaged face of America in Flint. His weapons may only be comic darts, but they draw blood.