Quiz Show (Robert Redford, 1994)

Would you commit to cheating if the price is right?

Clocking in at two hours and twelve minutes, most movies would outstay their welcome, but not Quiz Show. The reason for its endurance is that from the first moment to the very last, it places its characters before tough, interesting choices.

The premise is so simple you’d think it wouldn’t make for a very involving film. In the 1960s there is a television show everybody watches. The quiz is rigged: the winning contestant receives the questions beforehand, all in the service of maintaining ratings and keeping the sponsor happy. When a disgruntled contestant, schlemiel Herbert Stempel (John Turturro), is forced into taking a dive to make place for the charming Charles van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), he gets an investigator involved to take down the whole scheme. Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow) gets to work uncovering the corruption at NBC.

It’s the moral conundrum that is so fascinating. What would you do, placed in the same situation? You are offered a sum of over 100,000 dollars (comparable to a million today) and the chance to become a national star. Yes, it’s fraud and goes against regulations, but it’s a victimless crime. It seems harmless enough. Would you discard the offer out of hand?

The moments when the contestants are put under immense pressure, forced to make a decision before the all-seeing camera, are superb. Herbert mulling over deliberately losing, Charles thinking about confessing. Seemingly small moments that maintain tension throughout the film. Great performances by Fiennes and Turturro, and a good script that gives the movie a classic detective vibe seal the deal. This story about the duplicity of television raises some hairy questions.

Roderick Leeuwenhart

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