Be careful what you pretend to be
Joseph Haschka | Glendale, CA USA | 06/21/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Throughout his acting career, Nick Nolte has never particularly inspired my admiration. Until MOTHER NIGHT, that is.In a film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's novel of the same title, Howard Campbell is an American playwright who grows to manhood in Germany before World War II. He marries Helga, a German actress. During the war, he elects to broadcast anti-Semitic speeches for the Reich Propaganda Ministry. Unknown to his Nazi bosses, he was recruited as an agent by the U.S. Defense Department shortly before the outbreak of the conflict, and Howard's radio sermons pass along coded messages to the Allies. Only three other Americans know of his role: his mysterious recruiter Frank (John Goodman), FDR, and the head of the OSS. Frank tells Campbell that the American government will eternally disavow his heroic actions as the Soviets would twist the story into some sort of anticommunist German-American plot. By the war's end, Helga is dead. (Or is she?) Campbell is captured by the U.S. Third Army, but then released, apparently on the intercession of Frank, who also manages to spirit him to New York to restart his life. After 15 years living there unnoticed, Howard's role as Hitler's tame American is revealed to the public by an admiring neo-Nazi organization. Both the Israelis and Soviets clamor for his repatriation to stand trial.MOTHER NIGHT plays more like a live stage production. It begins with Campbell being escorted to an Israeli prison to the song of Bing Crosby's "White Christmas". The film is a series of long flashbacks. At one point, Howard observes in a voice-over to the viewer that one must be careful what one pretends to be for that is what one truly becomes. Although MOTHER NIGHT has been criticized for its lack of a message, I rather believe that it's that an individual must in the end take responsibility for his/her actions in life regardless of the role, real or pretend, that's been played. For Campbell, realization of the consequences to humanity of his wartime persona comes at three widely separated points. The first, as the Red Army drives on Berlin's outskirts, Howard's father-in-law, the Chief of Police, tells Campbell that even though he (the Chief) suspected his son-in-law of being a spy, he now realizes that Howard served the Reich more than he might have ever served the enemy. Why? Because Campbell, with his broadcasts, made the Chief (and presumably other Germans) better Nazis. The second point comes in New York as Campbell views archival footage of one of his more rabid diatribes. And the last, in the Israeli prison, when Howard has a stunning insight during a conversation with Adolf Eichmann regarding the amount of self-credit the latter takes (or not) for the annihilation of 6 million Jews. I can't give MOTHER NIGHT five stars for the simple reason that the neo-Nazis that Campbell eventually meets in New York are rendered as almost comic characters whose racist views don't come across as menacing as they truly are. Had they been portrayed with more seriousness, the overall impact of the film would have been, I think, greatly enhanced. Nevertheless, MOTHER NIGHT is well worth viewing."
The best book adaptation.
Joseph Haschka | 07/30/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"So far there have been three movies made from Kurt Vonnegut works. "Slaughtehouse Five", "Mother Night", and "Harrison Burgeron." "Harrison Burgeron" was really an amalgam of numerous Vonnegut themes and ideas, but based on the very short story of the same name. "Slaughterhouse Five" required that you read the book to get a full appreciation of the story in the film. "Mother Night" followed the book by the same title with precision, clarity and intensity.Wonderfully cast and acted, this is a dark tale of cause and effect on people's lives. To paraphrase the moral of the book "be careful what you pretend to be."Nolte is perfect as the lead with surprising and excellent roles by Arkin, Sheryl Lee, and John Goodman. If you are a Vonnegut fan you will not be disappointed with this interpretation of his book."
Fictional Fate of an American Nazi Collabotator
OoOoOoO | Singapore | 12/03/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is the story in which Kurt Vonnegurt tackles the heavy topic of a fictional character:- an American Nazi Collabotator, at least partially based on the true-life examples of 'Axis Sally' and Lord Haw Haw, American/British collaborator who worked for the Reich Broadcast Service and beaming out anti-Allies propaganda in WWII. A dangerous and difficult topic at best of times, an explosive one if it is not handled well. But the director pulls it off with great skill, sensitivity and panache with this adaptation, blending the tension of war, personal tragedy, picaresque twists of fate and "X-files" like paranoid conspiracy theory. A remarkably keen-eye and un-preachy treatment of the issue of Nazi collaborator and their subsequent lives living incognito amidst their arch-enemy, America. The director wisely avoided moralising, crude evil/good comparisons, and cut-out stereotyping of Nazis as ogres or monsters, but instead produced a thought-provoking & sensitive account of the picaresque twists of fates endured by the lead character, an American Nazi Collabotator who married the daughter of the Chief of Police of Nazi Berlin. If you are interested you may also wish to try 'Apt Pupil' (DVD also available on Amazon.Com), which is a uniquely insightful & tautly directed psychology thriller about an aged SS officer living under an assumed identity in idyllic American suburbia, whose true identity was discovered by a teenager and who was subsequently 'blackmailed' into telling the youth his true-life experience as a death camp commandant in Poland"