Powerful and sweeping, the critically acclaimed CRADLE WILL ROCK, starring Hank Azaria, Joan Cusack, John Cusack, Bill Murray, and Susan Sarandon, takes a kaleidoscopic look at the extraordinary events of 1930s America. Fr... more »om high society to life on the streets, director Tim Robbins (DEAD MAN WALKING) brings Depression-era New York City to vivid life. It's a time when DaVincis are given to millionaires who help fund the Mussolini war effort and Nelson Rockefeller commissions Mexican artist Diego Rivera to paint the lobby of Rockefeller Center. A time when a young Orson Welles and a troupe of passionate actors risk everything to perform the infamous musical "The Cradle Will Rock." As threats to their freedom and livelihood loom larger, they refuse to give into censorship. Based on actual events, CRADLE WILL ROCK will move you.« less
"Although ultraconservatives will undoubtedly dismiss `The Cradle Will Rock' as blatant leftwing propaganda, the rest of us will see it as a fascinating rumination on the intricate relationship that has always existed between politics and art. Writer/director Tim Robbins, whose left-leaning sympathies are common knowledge in the film industry, has managed to create a screenplay of amazing complexity and depth, functioning on an enormous number of levels - political, historical, aesthetic, personal - without ever losing clarity and focus. He has set up a dizzying array of characters, yet each one is fleshed out with enough depth and particularity to make him or her a vital part of the overall tapestry.Set in the turbulent 1930's, Robbins' tale focuses on the National Theatre Company, an organization set up by Roosevelt during the Depression to provide out-of-work artists a vehicle through which to ply their trade and culture-starved audiences a chance to revel in the glories of live theatrical performances. Unfortunately, it was also a time of great civil and political upheaval, with Communism and Fascism battling for supremacy abroad and many Americans divided along similar lines in their loyalties. With passions running deep, it was only a matter of time before many in the United States Congress began suspecting the NTC of Communist sympathizing - and it was a short road from there to the eventual dismemberment of the organization. The film centers on the production of a controversial musical play called `The Cradle Will Rock' that portrays the glorious coming of unionism to a steel factory, a scenario that parallels the events in the lives of several of the characters in the film.Given this fascinating historical background, Robbins has filled his film with a rich assortment of characters, from Orson Welles, as a fledgling young actor who sees unions as the ruination of artistic purity, to Nelson Rockefeller, as a well-meaning art patron who balks at the mural Diego Rivera has painted for him only after Rivera refuses to remove the image of Lenin from Rockefeller's monument-to-capitalism lobby. In fact, the cast of characters is so enormous, with each one taking a crucial part in the narrative proceedings, that it is quite impossible to mention them all here. Suffice it to say that Robbins covers the social spectrum from industrialists and capitalists to union workers and the unemployed, from sympathetic patrons and patronesses to the little people eager to root out the seeds of Communism even at the expense of their own ostracism. And not a one is uninteresting.Robbins has assembled an all-star cast that reads like a who's who of contemporary movie acting (albeit of a non-blockbuster variety). Although at the beginning of the film, the casting of such familiar faces seems a bit disconcerting - leading to what critic Judith Crist refers to as the `hey there' syndrome, i.e. destroying the verisimilitude of a work by parading too many recognizable people before the camera - this technique actually helps the audience to differentiate the many characters who might otherwise pass by in a confusing and disorienting blur. Hank Azaria, Ruben Blades, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Cary Elwes, Bill Murray, Vanessa Redgrave, Susan Sarandon, John Turturro and Emily Watson comprise this truly fine cast.Liberal as his leanings might be, Robbins is able to focus on the bitter ironies that abound on both sides of the political spectrum. For instance, while Susan Sarandon portrays a Jewish ally of Mussolini, abandoning her pro-worker principles to act as his capitalist representative in the States, Ruben Blades plays a Diego Rivera who has subordinated - if only temporarily - his own revolutionary ethos to the power of the almighty buck. Also, there is a certain paradox to the fact that, when the government has decreed the theater closed and thereby forbidden the premiere performance of the play, it is the actors' UNION that threatens the performers with firing if they carry out their plan to stage it furtively. Robbins is even somewhat evenhanded in his treatment of the `enemy' - the rich capitalists and the anti-communist members of the theatre organization - portraying them with good-natured humor and pathos. Joan Cusack, as a clerk at the employment office and Bill Murray, as a vaudeville ventriloquist, seem like decent people, only hopelessly misguided and lonely. (Unfortunately, Murray's sudden change of heart at the end seems inexplicable and unmotivated). As for the elite in the story, Robbins does a lovely job of spoofery at the end of the film; as the play is finally being performed at a nearby theatre - representing the triumph both on stage and in the world at large of the common man over the oppressive tyrants of industry - the tycoons, dressed in masquerade ball costumes of the 18th Century aristocracy and Catholic hierarchy, mull over their plans to retain control of the art world by bankrolling only those paintings depicting the scenes of utmost blandness and banality. Thus, these men of corporate power are portrayed more as amusingly quaint pests than malevolent or malicious despots.There is certainly no denying that `The Cradle Will Rock' is, at heart, a bit of a leftwing diatribe. However, it is not a cruel or unreasonable one. And Tim Robbins' extraordinary skills as both a storyteller and filmmaker make this clearly one of the most interesting and impressive films of 1999."
Dance of the Dialectics
Glenn A. Buttkus | Sumner, WA USA | 07/21/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The time was 1936-the painful apex of the Great Depression. This was the world inhabited by the plethora of characters in this film. Most of them were real people-augmented by fictional counterparts. Composer Marc Blitzstein was real-as was his Brechtian musical. Its opening night is still considered the most extraordinary night in the history of American theatre. Rockefeller, Hearst, Diego Rivera, Orson Welles, and John Houseman were all real-and they did have a struggle with Actor's Equity and Federal Theatre Project (1935-39).
Tim Robbins, director, kept the film moving at a frenetic pace-flowing smoothly-overlapping several sub-plots and vignettes-and pulling it all together for the opening night of the landmark Marxist musical play. He cast his lovely lady-Susan Sarandon, in the small part of Mussolini's mistress Margherita. She shined as usual. Hank Azaria was very intense and effective as the composer Blitzstein-who heard "music" while immersed in the strife of the times. Ruben Blades played the artist Diego Rivera quite effectively-but that part will always belong to Alfred Molina after his turn in FRIDA (2002). John Cusack played NY mayor Nelson Rockefeller. Angus MacFadyen hammed it up a bit much as the young tiger-Orson Welles. Carey Elwes played John Houseman with a bit of a limp wrist. Cherry Jones was very good as Hallie Flanagan-head of the FTP. Vanessa Redgrave had a ball playing Countess LaGrange. Philip Baker Hall was the fictitious steel magnate-Gray Mathers. Bill Murray did a grand job playing ventriloquist-Tommy Crickshaw. Joan Cusack was prissy-good as muckraker Hazel Huffman. Emily Watson lifted our spirits playing down-on-her-luck Olive Stanton. John Turturro stood out as the young actor and family man-Aldo Silvano. The supporting cast was huge. It included Bernard Hughes, John Carpenter, Gretchen Mol, Jack Black, Paul Giamatti, Bob Balaban, and Harris Yulin.
Robbins has created an epic film with multiple narrative threads-endeavoring to encapsulate an entire world in turmoil-and set it to music. He adopted the point of view of the artist-the prince of players at the head of his troupe of swirling acrobats, jugglers, singers and actors. But when these many plot lines and battalions of characters are thoroughly mixed-and the denouement emerges-he pulled everything together into a precarious balance-performing a kind of performance magic. Based on the film's BO records (modest revenues)-a lot of people out there did not have the patience, education, stamina, or motivation to hold on for the full ride. It is not a film for the faint of focus. It takes a throbbing love of theatre and film to ride it full-tilt to the final buzzer and roll of credits. "
A film to watch with heart open and brain in gear
M. J. Alcock | stoke on trent UK | 03/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Greentomatoes reviews of this excellent movie make for truly depressing reading. A favourite line from some of them is "tries too hard". Yeah. Evidently, making a movie that encourages you to hold a thought between your ears for longer than thirty seconds constitutes a crime. This is a passionately "theatrical" re-telling of a series of seminal moments in the history of american art & theatre. If you don't like this movie,check your pulse, you might just be dead."
Brilliant Exploration of Art and American History
David O | San Francisco, CA | 11/20/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The only thing one can say after watching this film is WOW. Tim Robbins takes on such a wide range of issues and does it well. The cast is amazing. The subject matter -- Art/Censorship/Wartime Politics/Patriotism - is so relevant today. I wish the studios would re-release this and soon, before we wind up with an Ashcroft/Rumsfeld witch hunt related to Iraq and 9/11. Even without thinking of these larger issues, the movie is simply great entertainment. There's romance, drama, comedy, rags to riches sub-plots and history. Characters include Nelson Rockerfeller, WR Hearst, Diego Rivera, and Orson Wells. I mean this is ambitious stuff. If I taught high school or college American History, I would show this film as a teaching tool. Enjoy this film and hope that hollywood makes more like it."
Pretty Good Film
Samantha Kelley | USA | 02/21/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Cradle Will Rock is a piece of theater history. It was made during the Great Depression in the 1930s when times were hard and entertainment was escapist. However, Cradle Will Rock was a generic story that made a dramatic statement about the times and how hard life was. It was so strong, it was banned, but the actors believed in the message so much they performed anyway at the risk of their jobs, something scarce and vital in those days.
The writing in this film is incredibly well done and the cast is amazing. It is overflowing with notable actors (John Cusack, Hank Azaria, Susan Sarandon, Cary Elwes, Bill Murray, etc) and famous characters (Diego Rivera, William Randolph Hearst, Orson Welles, etc). Most films about this era are disappointing because they don't seem to capture it without being preachy or overly sentimental. This one is not perfect, but it is much closer. Aside from the historical stories, the film is actually interesting to watch and the characters are relatable.
The music is done well too. The characters do not just burst into song; they have a reason for singing when they do, which is not too terribly often.
The only complaint I have is the historical accuracy of some of the real characters. As a fan of silent films, I was disappointed to see that the few scenes with Marion Davies managed to portray her as a drunk and a dimwit. Even Hearst was portrayed to be rather overbearing and pompous. Still, they were a minor part of the action and did not ruin the film."