With a standout performance by James Woods, Rudy: The Rudolph Giuliani Story is a warts-and-all portrait of New York City's lame-duck mayor, who rose from political disfavor to unexpected heights of heroism and leadership in the wake of September 11, 2001. Originally broadcast on the USA Network and based on Wayne Barrett's muckraking biography, it's a condensed, Cliff's Notes rendition of Giuliani's political career, with each commercial break serving as a chapter stop, beginning on the eve of 9/11 and alternating past and present highlights from Giuliani's rise to power. The film offers an unflinching portrait of a devoted public servant who's as fallible as he is competent: his wife (Penelope Ann Miller) understandably suffers while extramarital affairs and political fearlessness are all seen as byproducts of Giuliani's compulsion to improve the city he loves. As Robert Dornhelm's clunky direction combines actual news footage with exacting recreations of 9/11 and its aftermath, Woods's charismatic performance wisely avoids mimicry to show us a flawed but noble man who, in the final analysis, deserves our conditional respect. --Jeff Shannon
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