Mother Night

An honorable failure, this intelligent adaptation of one of Kurt Vonnegut’s best early novels falters in part because it rejects Vonnegut’s narrative structure of alternating several time frames for more chronological flashbacks. This plays havoc at times with the book’s delicate ordering of facts about Howard W. Campbell Jr. (Nick Nolte)a successful German-American playwright living in Germany who decides during the rise of Nazism to work as an American spy, knowing that for security reasons his masquerade as a Nazi can never be revealed. The invaluable moral of the novel, placed in the first paragraph of the introduction is We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. By placing it less prominently in the narration, director Keith Gordon and adapter Robert B. Weide grant it a lesser function, so that the powerful literary irony established in the film’s first halfall the more valuable in the context of Schindler’s List and its suggestion that there were good ways of being a Naziis eventually dissipated, and the improbabilities of the original become much more vexing without the author’s exquisite expositional strategies. But this has taste and soul before the contrivances become too obtrusive. With Sheryl Lee, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Kirsten Dunst, and David Strathairn. (JR)

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