Movie #118 2021: Quiz Show (1994)

As a fan of quiz shows (literally any quiz show – I’m the world’s biggest trivia nerd), this movie was on my watchlist for a long time. Alas, I couldn’t find it anywhere. No, not even on DVD. And then came along the best thing since Netflix: Disney added the ‘Star’ channel to their streaming service. Lo and behold, Quiz Show was amongst the line up. Imagine my geek eyes lighting up, because that’s exactly what happened.

Based on a true story that was not unlike the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire coughing scandal in the UK a few years ago, Quiz Show goes even further into the depths of immorality in that the producers of the show in question not only knew about the cheating, but they manufactured it themselves. Escándalo, right? Set in 1950s America, we take a look at the radio quiz show named Twenty One, in which contestants simply have to answer questions to win cash prizes. With Ralph Fiennes as the star of the show, the film delves into how his character really felt about the cheating and how it was all exposed.

1994?! Well fuck, Robert Redford. You had me completely fooled. This is period drama visuals at their finest.

Quiz Show is just so aesthetically pleasing to me in every way. Everything’s a little dirty and grainy even though the action on screen is often glossy and good looking, which completely fits the narrative at play. It looks expensive and with good intentions, yet the truth is that there are corrupt things going on beneath the surface. Because of all this, the visuals and the drama that unfolds are expertly intertwined, and a look into Redford’s directing credits prove that this sort of thing really was his niche.

Another home run by Redford comes with his impeccable tension-building. Ralph Fiennes (so handsome here, just so you know) is wonderful at portraying his character’s moral ambiguity, and he forces you to really believe he is torn by what he is doing. Martin Scorsese’s bit part really made me smile too. I just love the guy. This film kind of proves that he’s actually quite a good actor that I’d have loved to see in more speaking roles in front of the camera. Alongside the sausage fest of a cast comes the one female character with any substance Mira Sorvino had no right to be this good in such a minor role. Fuck Hollywood for what happened to her because this is yet more evidence that she was an almighty talent back in the day, and still is.

Thematically, this is such a strong movie. Simply put, it’s a Faustian tale of dishonesty and the crooked nature of Hollywood. On top of that? It’s rooted in a true story, which only makes it more interesting. And the score? Mark Isham, you the man. (In case you were wondering what else Isham lent his hand to, he was also part of the Judas and the Black Messiah team last year.)

It’s true that the script is a lot of white men talking, but the cast is filled with such charisma that it doesn’t really matter. For the most part, the pacing is wonderful and Robert Redford does an exceptional job at encapsulating the fifties – I’m honestly floored by how underrated a director he’s proving himself to be.

Quiz Show is available to stream on Disney+ in the UK.

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