What may linger the longest, though, is Costa-Gavras's angry portrayal of the ugly politics of the media, the police, and a citizenry hungry for ten seconds of nationally televised tragedy. He has cut to the rancid core of the nightly news.

MAD CITY

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


"Mad City" is the work of an angry man with a lot on his mind. Director Constantin Costa-Gavras uses a stereotypical hostage situation to vent his disgust for the media--not a promising premise. He has the great sense, however, to turn his diatribe over to John Travolta and Dustin Hoffman, who make it sizzle.

Max Brackett is a driven investigative reporter languishing on a local news beat after erupting in an on-screen confrontation with egomaniacal network anchorman Kevin Hollander (Alan Alda). To keep Max out of trouble, his beleaguered boss sends him to the local Museum of Natural History to interview the curator about budget cuts.

As Max is about to leave with yet another story about nothing, Sam Baily (John Travolta), a former museum security guard who has been fired, slips into the museum with a gun and a satchel of dynamite. Sam is a simple soul sunk in the desperation of losing his paycheck: "That little piece of paper was the only thing holding my life together." He is desperate to make the curator, Mrs. Banks (Blythe Danner), understand that.

So now we have a terrorist we can love and the media to hate. When Sam's gun goes off accidentally, wounding his fellow guard and friend, Cliff (Bill Nunn), the media circus explodes, and Sam is trapped in the result of his impulsive act. In his simple innocence, Sam cannot begin to fathom his situation: "All I want is my job back."

In a superb piece of journalist's luck, Sam is trapped inside with Sam and a group of touring schoolchildren. With his intern/assistant, Laurie (Mia Kirshner), running his cameras on the outside, Max orchestrates the ordeal as if he is carrying a battle flag. Will he ride his triumphant story back into the New York newsroom? Or will his dormant idealism be triggered by Sam's goodness?

Costa-Gavras paints the media as a surreal sea of greedy predators, and manages to attack TV anchors, evangelists, reporters, the celebrity culture, the FBI, neo-nazis, liberals, SWAT teams, and citizen witnesses who seize the spotlight. This familiar carnival is rescued from the ordinary by an acting duet between John Travolta and Dustin Hoffman that never slips off key.

John Travolta's Sam is a frustrated child, a little boy begging for attention with a small stamp of his foot. Travolta movingly catches what Sam's wife knows about her husband: "You have to help point him in the right direction." Dustin Hoffman's Max, who could stop the gunman at any time but wants to prolong the TV coverage, is a subtle blend of fire, fairness, and self-promotion. Watching Travolta's innocent and Hoffman's cynic is pure pleasure.

What may linger the longest, though, is Costa-Gavras's angry portrayal of the ugly politics of the media, the police, and a citizenry hungry for ten seconds of nationally televised tragedy. He has cut to the rancid core of the nightly news.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 494
Studio : Warner Bros.
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 1h54m


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