Plot: What’s it about?
Howard W. Campbell, Jr. (Nick Nolte) is an American playwright who lives in Germany and is about to have his entire life changed when he is recruited by the U.S. government. Campbell is asked to serve his country in World War II in a most unusual fashion, as he is to infiltrate the Nazi numbers and then leak information back to the U.S. government. In an effort to gain favor within the Nazi ranks and thus be more likely to hear more protected information, Campbell becomes one of the most vocal and vicious of them which seems to turn the trick. He works as a radio broadcaster and delivers brutal messages and speeches which degrade other races and pronounce the Nazis as the true saviors for the globe. In order to protect him from being discovered his secret is known to only three others, including the president of the United States. So time passes and Campbell gains access to more information, all the while delivering his messages of hate. When the war has been won he is brought back to the U.S. where he is given a chance to live a peaceful life. But when the past catches up with him and he has no proof of who he really is, Campbell learns a harsh lesson about pretending.
I love the storyline within this movie and though the film has some flaws, I think the power of the actors and the writing are able to lift this movie above several other films in a similar vein. As much as I love the basic premise involved I was worried that it might lose steam when translated from novel to cinema, but the transition is smooth and ends up just the way I would have wanted it to. The characters seem very real thanks to the writing and as such the tension and suspense are very real, which ensures this will be a good one to revisit in the future. I don’t think this movie ever lets the viewer go, even after the final reel and that’s something few movies can accomplish these days. If you need special effects and kids that see dead people to stay interested though, this one isn’t for you as you might have to pay attention to appreciate this film. I mean, a movie that might make you think? You would have guessed? So those in search of a more complex film with realistic and detailed characters will have a lot to like with this one. This is a terrific movie and New Line has issued a superb disc for it, so I can easily recommend this one whether you choose to purchase or just rent.
This film was directed by Keith Gordon, who delivers an amazing motion picture despite his inexperience as a director. This is the type of movie where experience would help for sure, but Gordon handles this like a season professional which I feel speaks volumes for his potential in this business. I never would have though that Jason Melon from Back To School could helm such a powerful drama, but he does it and with flying colors. This type of movie doesn’t lend itself to wild pans or other dazzling visual tricks, but Gordon’s basic style brings all of the elements across well without being overly distracting. If you want to view more of Gordon’s movies I recommend Waking The Dead, The Chocolate War, and A Midnight Clear. Nick Nolte takes the lead in this movie and leaves his usual over the top antics at home, thankfully. In a more subdued performance, Nolte (Another 48 Hours, Affliction) comes off very well and is able to develop his character also. The rest of the cast is also good and includes Alan Arkin (Gattaca, The Jerky Boys), Kirsten Dunst (Drop Dead Gorgeous, Small Soldiers), Bernard Behrens (Trapped In Paradise, Zero Patience), Frankie Faison (The Silence Of The Lambs, The Thomas Crown Affair), and Sheryl Lee (Vampires, Kiss The Sky).
Video: How does it look?
Mother Night is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This is a New Line release so of course it looks fantastic, but some small errors do emerge. This was a rather low budget movie and as such some grain and debris appear on the print, but this is usually minor and doesn’t distract much from the movie. As far as compression errors some very minor edge enhancement and pixillation emerges, but again nothing to be concerned about. The colors seem based in a natural spectrum and hues look bright, though not too bright. I found no traces of smears or other color errors and flesh tones seemed normal at all times. The contrast is dead on, with complex shadows and no detail loss I could detect. The black & white sequences look great also, another tremendous New Line visual presentation.
Audio: How does it sound?
This isn’t the type of film I expected a powerful audio mix from, but the included Dolby Digital 5.1 track is quite active and develops and excellent atmosphere for the movie. Now I am not saying this should be the disc to demonstrate your home theater with, but it is a much more lively track than I expected. It seems like the surrounds kick in often and deliver some terrific subtle audio touches, which really adds a lot to this presentation. You’ll notice some powerful use also though when war sequences are shown, even the bass gets a chance to work a few times. The music also takes advantage of the surround channels at times, which ensures a full and immersive texture for the score. This is a dialogue based movie though and vocals sound wonderful and crisp here, while volume never varied enough to warrant a remote adjustment.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This isn’t part of New Line’s Platinum Series, but with all this bonus material you might think it is. The usual theatrical trailer and cast & crew biographies/filmographies can be found on this release, but that’s simply the start of the terrific supplements. A brief featurette titled The Eichmann Trial contains some vintage footage relevant to this film, while a twelve minute interview with actor Nick Nolte and novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. offer some insight into their take on Nolte’s character and how the film evolved from the novel. You will find not one, but two alternate audio tracks with this release and while only one is screen specific, both are quite interesting. The first is with director Keith Gordon and screenwriter Robert Weide and is loaded with information and behind the scenes goodies, which is what we fans love to hear. The second is more of a conversational track by Nick Nolte, which means there’s some good stuff to glean but the gaps are frequent and long. His comments aren’t screen specific and as such, sometimes wander far from you’re watching. The final section contains a selection of deleted scenes, which you can view with or without commentary from director Keith Gordon.