I had never even heard of this movie before we watched it in class, but it came out in 1994 and was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Script. I didn’t realize Robert Redford was a director, either, but that’s an impressive title to add to the list: actor/producer/dessert namesake/director.
All in all, Quiz Show is a really great movie. It’s one of those amazing “Based on a true story” kinds of movies that you think to yourself, “People couldn’t make this shit up if they tried!” It’s crazy interesting, especially if you’re a history buff; it’s really entertaining if you’re not.
(Just FYI, this trailer doesn’t do the film justice. Like, at all.)
To answer question one, I think the theme is boundaries, more specifically finding out what those boundaries are, whether or not there are any, and what exactly qualifies as crossing them. The whole idea of rigging the show seems unethical, but like Albert Friedman (Hank Azaria) said, “It’s entertainment.” All of television is a lie, so why should this show be any different. The thing is, we do think it should be, but why? Is that fair? Most everyone agrees, Dan Enright (David Paymer) and Friedman crossed a boundary for rigging the show. What about the contestants? In Charles Van Doren’s (Ralph Fiennes) case, he didn’t want to cheat, but he got manipulated into doing it. He undoubtedly would have done very well without cheating, but he did. People thought he crossed the line. What about Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow)? He tried to protect Van Doren. Does that cross the line? I don’t know, and I think that is what Robert Redford tried to convey in Quiz Show. There is a lot of gray area in life. I think Elia Kazan would be pleased with this film, because it’s hard to tell whether Van Doren and Herbie Stemple (John Turturro) are good guys or bad guys.
I think the opening shot answers both questions three and four. The scene of men getting into a heavily guarded bank vault makes you want to find out what is so important. When he only pulls out an envelope with “Twenty One” written on it, I was very intrigued. It makes you want to watch more and know where he is going with it (assuming you didn’t know the show was called “Twenty One”). It implies further drama, but because there was a lot of excitement and (I think I remember hearing) lighter music in the background, it wasn’t too somber.
Question number seven is very relevant to this specific film. Reaction shots were used very well. There were a lot of conflicting emotions within this film, even more so than usual, due to the gray area over boundaries that the film takes place in. Also, reactions are important to pay attention to when deceit is involved. People’s split-second, uncontrollable actions tell a lot about them, the way the little smirk on Van Doren’s face when he lost told Goodwin he was cheating, or the way Jack Berry (Christopher McDonald) did a double take when the contestant got the question about Emily Dickinson correct.