An idealistic young lawyer working for a Congressional subcommittee in the late 1950s discovers that TV quiz shows are being fixed. His investigation focuses on two contestants on the show "Twenty-One": Herbert Stempel, a brash working-class Jew from Queens, and Charles Van Doren, the patrician scion of one of America's leading literary families. Based on a true story. Written by
Tim Horrigan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
As a twelve year old growing up in Brooklyn, I did not even know the name of the show I was watching every week; to me it was just a vehicle to see if hero Charles Van Doren could hang in. He was handsome, articulate, witty, and all the girls thought him incredibly attractive (although their pre-teen minds did not yet understand sexuality). Growing up in a Jewish neighborhood as I did, Herb Stempel did not come off so nerdy as he looks now in retrospect. When it came out that everyone had cheated, us kids felt not only betrayed, but sleazily cheated personally. The girls felt somehow violated!
Here Redford turns in an understated masterpiece. He sets the stage and the standard, and gets fantastic performances from his actors:
John Turturro as Stempel is excellent, but a fine job by Johann Carlo as his principled wife, which may be overlooked in such company, is the rock upon which his family can really rely.
Ralph Fiennes, as the hapless Charles Van Doren, manages to get across his character's dilemma: a mere achiever in a family of ultra-achievers. In any other family he'd have been prime, as a Van Doren he would always be an also-ran.
Many have pointed out the great job of Paul Scofield as Mark Van Doren, Charles' father. He is the epitome of the WASP-intellectual padrone. And he has our sympathy when his son so sorely disappoints him and disgraces the family.
David Paymer is excellent and believable as Enright, the unsavory producer. He makes it almost seem disloyal not to cheat!
Bit parts are all little plums: Martin Scorsese as Martin Rittenhouse, the Geritol exec, smugly contemptuous of the public and the government. George Martin as the network president, clearly Jewish, and just as clearly a "Teflon Don" in his own world.
The scenes at the Van Doren estate are designed to convey investigator Goodwin's (Rob Morrow) culture shock and outsider status, and they represent the academic WASP world of the time accurately and wonderfully.
All in all, a great movie.
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