Quiz Show ★★★★★

A fascinating, even-handed look at the "Twenty-One" scandal of the late ‘50s. It seems to encompass all the hidden rottenness under the post-WWII American veneer. Sputnik has just been launched, as we learn in the beautifully constructed opening scene, which introduces not only our hero, fledgling attorney Richard Goodwin (Rob Morrow), but also the film’s themes of power, money, prestige, and ethnic/class tension. (All this from a scene of Rob Morrow shopping for a Chrysler!) Director Robert Redford (whose best film this is by far) and ace screenwriter Paul Attanasio masterfully set the milieu and develop the characters whose lives it warps. Herbert Stempel (John Turturro), a grad student who’s been winning big on the trivia show "Twenty-One," has begun to lose favor with home viewers and with show sponsor Geritol. An effusive Jew, Stempel is frankly obnoxious and not terribly telegenic; the producers decide to deep-six him and bring in a shinier candidate. They find one in Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), handsome, urbane son of the poet Mark Van Doren (Paul Scofield). Charles is smart — a professor — but the producers make him smarter by feeding him the questions and answers. Redford, however, doesn’t simply make this a battle between the underdog Jews (Stempel, Goodwin) and the golden Gentiles. In the end, the medium itself emerges as the chief villain. A scrupulous, brilliantly acted, and restlessly intelligent film.