Saturday 29 June 2024

Movie Review: Quiz Show (1994)

Genre: Drama  
Director: Robert Redford  
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Rob Morrow, John Turturro, David Paymer, Paul Scofield, Hank Azaria  
Running Time: 133 minutes  

Synopsis: In 1958, Twenty One is the highest rated quiz show on the NBC television network, and goofy Herb Stempel (John Turturro) is the current multi-week champion. The show's producer Dan Enright (David Paymer) builds ratings by rigging the outcome: popular contestants are provided with answers in advance. When ratings plateau, Herb is unceremoniously replaced by handsome academic Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), who is initially reluctant to cheat but then enjoys celebrity status as his winning streak captures the nation's imagination. The jilted Herb goes public with corruption accusations, prompting an investigation by Congressional lawyer Richard Goodwin (Rob Morrow).

What Works Well: Based on actual events, the story of greed-driven competition fixing is enhanced by complex character dynamics. Aided by an engaged cast, polished production values, and touches of humour, director Robert Redford probes dogged investigator Goodwin's evolving attitudes towards the charms of Charles Van Doren. Hints of celebrity worship combine with sympathy, leading Goodwin to target the industry rather than the individual, an unsatisfactory prospect for both the public and the politicians. Meanwhile the enraged Herb is sidelined but not silenced, and makes enough of a ruckus to allege discrimination based on class, education, and religion, although as a cheater himself he remains unlikely to benefit from any outcome.

What Does Not Work As Well: As the drama meanders over the two hours mark, the storytelling starts to surpass the story. Although undoubtedly headline grabbing, television game show cheating is more spectacle than substance.

Conclusion: Good questions, well-prepared answers.

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