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Rheinhardt, a cynical drifter, gets a job as an announcer for right-wing radio station WUSA in New Orleans. Rheinhardt is content to parrot WUSA's reactionary editorial stance on the air, even if he doesn't agree with it. Rheinhardt finds his cynical detachment challenged by a lady friend, Geraldine, and by Rainey, a neighbor and troubled idealist who becomes aware of WUSA's sinister, hidden purpose. And when events start spinning out of control, even Rheinhardt finds he must take a stand. Written by
Eugene Kim <email@example.com>
An American Masterpiece, about to be released on DVD Dec 7, 2010
This one of my favorite movies of all time with Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Antony Perkins, Cloris Leachman and Pat Hingle all at their best. Reinhart (Newman), a man who's washed up as a musician becomes a "communicator" at WUSA, a right-wing radio station in New Orleans. He is not an ideologue himself not a Rush Limbaugh character just an employee, a DJ I think he reads the news. But the fact that he works there at all paints him a right winger to his antagonist played by Perkins. The film contains some of my favorite lines of dialog in film, like when Reinhart gets the job and Leachman is thrilled. "Yeah, just great. I'm part of a pattern in someone else's head." He's long past being thrilled.
There are two important and tense scenes between Perkins, a do-gooder who lacks the basic confidence that gets Newman shacked up within minutes of his arrival in New Orleans. In one of them, Perkins stutters through his outrage, wanting to know what's going on at WUSA. Newman coolly listens and responds acidly: "I understand your situation... because I too am a moralist." Perkins responds with a smirk and an "oh yeah, right" which Newman cuts off, "...but there IS a solution to your dilemma..." to which Perkins stammers "a-a-and w-w-w-what w-would that be Reinhart?" Newman's smile disappears and he responds with his thumbs down: "Drop dead." He repeats the line with all the rage and contempt he can muster, all his feelings so twisted inside him that he can barely function. The feelings Perkins needs to make him feel competent Newman has felt too and they have hollowed him out. Newman's not right wing. He's just beat. Dropped out. If you don't know that, you don't understand where Reinhart's coming from. He's a sleepwalking man but mostly he is as disappointed and disillusioned as a man can be. Unfortunately, the character played by Perkins is much better at retaining his illusions with tragic consequences.
This movie is about ideological exhaustion and the delusions of the ideologically pure, both left and right wing.
What is so good about WUSA for me is that it's the only time, other than Hud, when Newman was an actor first, a star second. And this one's the grittiest. The reason for its unpopularity is that it is uncompromisingly honest about a political situation which to some extent still exists today. It really comes down on neither side of the political divide or, to be more accurate, pretty gruesomely insults both, thus satisfying no one who expects a movie to be partisan. It's ironic that it's hated because it is a "message movie."
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