Quiz Show (1994)

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 9.6/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 9/10

QUIZ SHOW (1994) - Robert Redford

"Fifty million people watched, but no one saw a thing" - Poster tagline

During the 1950s, America was transitioning into the television age. At this time, quiz shows were the most popular form of entertainment to the public. However, a series of scandals involving the shows arose. Contestants were secretly given assistance by the shows' producers to arrange the outcome of a supposedly fair competition. The most notable scandal of all time was in 1956, where the game show Twenty-One was rigged to make Columbia professor Charles Van Doren win over the notorious Herb Stempel. This controversial event is what inspired actor/director Robert Redford to make the 1994 historical drama filmQuiz Show.

Ralph Fiennes, who at the time just finished Schindler's List, comes to portray Charles Van Doren, while John Turturro portrays his rigged loser Herb Stempel. Robert Redford, most known for portraying the Sundance Kid in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and directing A River Runs Through It, is the key guide to every actor's deliverance. 

Turturro is exceptional. As if he himself is mental, he depicts the uncharismatic Stempel skillfully. We are conflicted whether or not we should look down at him for his character or we should be frustrated with him for his rigged loss. After all, he is asked to incorrectly answer a question that everyone at the time knew the answer to. He is not just kicked off the show, but he is humiliated too. He steps off the show with no face. Despite his lack of magnetism, Stempel is amusing with his smart-mouthed words, the part where Turturro's comedic talent steps in. He is the perfect Herb Stempel: an unattractive yet radically intelligent person.

Fiennes proves to us that he can truly become another character and convince us. Before, he was the notorious cold-blooded Amon Goeth. Now, he is able to transform into a professor who slowly becomes conflicted over his choice of becoming involved in a scandal. Fiennes brings Charles Van Doren to life. He plays the family loving man who feels that he must do what is best for himself, yet begins questioning his morals. Fiennes is superb; as wonderful as he is talented.

Quiz Show was nominated for a total of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. If I were to give out my own award to Quiz Show, I would award it "Best Monologue/Speech/Soliloquy". The confession that Ralph Fiennes makes to the United States Congress subcommittee is beyond powerful:

"I would give almost anything I have to reverse the course of my life in the last year. The past doesn’t change for anyone, but at least I can learn from the past. I’ve learned a lot about life. I’ve learned a lot about myself. And about the responsibilities any man has towards his fellow men. I’ve learned a lot about good and evil. They’re not always what they appear to be. I was involved, deeply involved, in a deception. I have deceived my friends, and I have millions of them. I lied to the American people. First, I lied about what I knew. And then I lied about what I did not know. In a sense I was like a child who refuses to admit a fact in the hope it’ll go away. Of course, it did not go away. I was scared. Scared to death. I had no solid position, no basis to stand on for myself. There was one way out, and that was simply to tell the truth. It may sound trite to you but I have found myself again after a number of years. I’ve been acting a role, maybe all my life, of thinking I had done more, accomplished more, produced more, than I have. I’ve had all the breaks. I’ve stood on the shoulders of life and I’ve never gotten down into the dirt to build, or to erect, a foundation of my own. I have flown too high on borrowed wings. Everything came too easy. And that is why I am here today."

It is as well-spoken as it is heartfelt, as remorseful as he is disappointed with himself.

In the end, Quiz Show is a simple movie that brilliantly delivers what it is trying to say. Robert Redford has turned what used to be a massive event but is now dry news into high art. Quiz Show is both dramatically and historically important, an outstanding film that provides a marvelous opportunity for analyzing the way people make moral choices. Despite the film overall being old-fashioned, it is still gripping and compelling. With rich performances from both Turturro and Fiennes, Quiz Show is a mesmerizing drama that handsomely deserves to be talked about.


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