Mother Night [1996]

The third movie from director Keith Gordon (The Chocolate War, A Midnight Clear). The 35-year-old director who started as an actor (Christine) has turned into one of the more assured directors working today. His films are ambitious in plot and tone. With Mother Night he works with his first major star, Nick Nolte. In 1961, the fictitious Howard W. Campbell Jr., an American by birth, shares the same deserted prison with Adolph Eichmann. As he prepares to stand trial for war crimes, the former playwright scribes his memoirs. Now this is the same Howard W. Campbell Jr. who was a notorious voice on German radio during the war, tearing into American policy and spreading Nazi propaganda. Was he a willful participant or an American spy? Campbell, who romanticizes at the drop of a hat, tells his story of indifference, morality, and love. His days of notoriety in Berlin give way to anonymity back in the States. He purrs about his true love (Sheryl Lee) and tells truths with his shrewd neighbor in New York (Alan Arkin). The movie is based on Kurt Vonnegut's 1961 novel of the same name. Gordon and screenwriter Robert E. Weide have an uncommon insight into Vonnegut's material: the mesh of fact and fiction, the sweeping themes, the tragic goofiness. The movie is perfectly suited to Nolte's gruff style with a husky voice that pierces the night. The film is a cherished companion piece to Slaughterhouse Five. --Doug Thomas

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