Buried in its holiday release, you no longer have an excuse to miss this great movie. Mother Night is director Keith “A Midnight Clear” Gordon’s entry into Kubrick land by way of Kurt Vonnegut, where no firm footing is to
be had on moral ground.
Based on Vonnegut’s novel, this is the story of Howard W. Campbell (Nick Nolte), the “Last Free American”. Campbell is an American playwright living
in pre-war Germany. He is devoted to his actress wife, Helga (Sheryl “Twin Peaks” Lee) and pays little attention to anything political. One day an American agent, appealing to Howard’s sense of heroics, recruits him as a
spy. Campbell will use his talents and position of celebrity to spew Nazi propaganda on a weekly radio show. The speeches will contain a series of pauses and coughs designed to pass secret information to the Allied forces. Unfortunately, after the war, the U.S. government will be unable to acknowledge his role, so they may try the same trick in the next war.
Howard goes along with it as “a noble cause”. He also gets a little too good at his job. Even his father-in-law begrudgingly tells him he learned how to be a Nazi by listening to his show.
This is when the old Vonnegut irony really kicks in. Campbell promptly loses everything he cares about in the war. The whole world sees him as a war criminal. Eventually, Campbell wonders if he is. Whenever someone learns his identity, the U.S. government puts him into hiding. He thinks he has nothing left to live for, but he learns there’s always a deeper circle of hell than the one you’re in.
The movie has been playing well lately at special screenings in Los Angeles. Fine Line Pictures lost its nerve and didn’t give the film a proper chance. It deserves another. Just take my word and rent the damn thing.