Mother Night

A fine, melancholy adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1961 novel, with Nick Nolte in peak, vulnerable form as the tormented hero Howard W. Campbell Jr. An American who grew up in Germany, Howard enjoys a posh life as a playwright and husband of the daughter (the excellent Sheryl Lee) of a high-ranking Nazi. Then an American agent (John Goodman) approaches Howard with a proposition: Howard will go on the radio and deliver hateful anti-Semetic rants, ostensibly to boost Nazi morale; the speeches are actually encoded with messages to the Allies. After the war, Howard shuffles through life, a typically morose and absurdist Vonnegut hero: the American government can’t acknowledge his valor as a spy, so he has to go into hiding, where he meets many betrayers and also neo-Nazi American fans of his radio “work.” Director Keith Gordon’s work is clean and unpretentious, continuing his interest in themes of non-conformity and grace under pressure. Only weakness: Gordon’s style may be too realistic for some of Vonnegut’s plot, which hinges a bit too much on coincidence. Still well worth your time. With fine support by Alan Arkin, Arye Gross, Kirsten Dunst, Frankie Faison, and David Strathairn. Vonnegut has a cameo on a crowded New York street.

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