A personal favourite of mine, this is a 1994 drama-satire based on the scandal on the "21" quiz show.
Outside it was quiz
Inside, all fizz.
Today there are a hundred twenty-ones
Television has finally gotten us.
The story starts with Herbert Stempel, a jew from Queens, gathering 21 more points on the show. However, the sponsors are unhappy with the crude Jew, and a slick, well-educated WASP from one of the most famous literary families, Charles Van Doren in the US us wooed by the promise of fame. He is given the questions (which are supposedly "sealed" in a bank locker) and he keeps winning easily. Meanwhile, Dick Goodwin, and investgator with a congressional sub-committee, senes that all is not well. There are surprises as Dick digs into the show. He is repelled by the crude Stempel, and finds himself sympathising with the cheating Charles Van Doren.
It is rare that a movie is written as brilliantly as it is acted and directed, but that is Quiz Show. I'll quote some quotes from this movie here, but of course, they are but more beautiful when uttered by Paul Scofield. There are lots of good lines in the movie, including three beautifully written conversations between Charles Van Doren and his father. I couldn't find much on IMDB, so be content with just three.
Mark Van Doren: Cheating on a quiz show? That's sort of like plagiarizing a comic strip.
Mark Van Doren: (About playing poker) If you look around the table and you can't tell who the sucker is, it's you.
Mark Van Doren: Sixty-four thousand dollars for a question, I hope they are asking you the meaning of life.
Mark Van Doren is played by Paul Scofield, who has the best lines in the movie, and plays Charles Van Doren's (Fiennes) father with poignance and elegance. Fiennes, as the man caught between fame and morality, turns in a wonderfully sensitive performance. John Turturro is intense as the tricked and ousted twenty-one champion. Rob Morrow is the investigator, and plays him well, but falls under the shadow of the these three.
The direction is very good, with skillfully handled sequences between Charles and Mark Van Doren, as well as the quiz show. The cinematography is full of close-ups, and nicely shot conversations.
This is a rare movie, as it is moving, profound as well as entertaining. There is no morality dilemma in here, but there is the impending fear that the bad ones will get away. It's not hard to see how tough the questions were, and how there has been a dumbing down since then. There is a father-son relationship, an investigator too full sympathy for the guilty, a WASP wanting to get out of his father's shadow, a Jew who accuses jews of rasicm and cheating, while his own morality is debatable, and TV producers who don't think twice before cheating.
There is a lot more to this movie than is evident at first sight, and watch it carefully, enjoy the brilliance, and think.
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