|Directed by||Keith Gordon|
|Produced by||Keith Gordon
Robert B. Weide
|Screenplay by||Robert B. Weide|
|Based on||Mother Night
by Kurt Vonnegut
|Narrated by||Nick Nolte|
|Music by||Michael Convertino|
|Editing by||Jay Rabinowitz|
|Studio||New Line Cinema
|Distributed by||Fine Line Features|
|Running time||114 minutes |
Nick Nolte stars as Howard W. Campbell, Jr., an American who moves with his family to Germany after World War I and goes on to become a successful German language playwright. As World War II looms, Campbell meets a man who claims to be from the United States Department of War, and is recruited to spy for the U.S., transmitting Nazi propaganda containing hidden messages that can only be decoded by Allied intelligence. After the war, Campbell relocates to New York state, where he attempts to live in obscurity. The film is narrated by Campbell, through a series of flashbacks, as he sits in a jail cell in Israel, writing his memoirs, and awaiting trial for war crimes.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (August 2012)|
The film opens with Campbell being taken to an Israeli jail. Campbell is an American playwright who lived in pre-WWII Germany with his wife Helga. During the buildup to World War II, Campbell is approached by a man calling himself Frank Wirtanen who reveals himself to be a major working for the U.S. War Department. Wirtanen asks Campbell to work as a spy for the U.S. in the approaching war, though he promises no reward or recognition. Campbell immediately rejects the offer, but Wirtanen quickly adds that he wants Campbell to take some time to consider, telling him that Campbell's answer will come in the form of how he acts and what positions he assumes once the war begins.
Once World War II begins, Campbell works his way up through Joseph Goebbels' propaganda organization, eventually becoming the "voice" of English language anti-Semitic broadcasts aimed at United States citizens, in which he declares himself to be "The Last Free American". Unbeknownst to the Nazis, all of the idiosyncrasies of his speech (deliberate pauses, coughing, etc.) form a secret code that covertly transmits information to the Allied forces.
About halfway through the war, his wife goes to the Eastern Front to entertain troops, and is reported killed when the camp is overrun. Just before the Soviet Army reaches Berlin, Campbell visits his in-laws one last time, where Helga's father, who had worked as Chief of Police in Berlin, coldly informs Campbell that he had never liked him, even going as far as to announce his suspicion that Campbell may have been a spy. He amends his statement to say that, even if Campbell had been a spy, his propaganda was so effective that he could never have served the Allies better than he had served the Nazis. Campbell goes on to meet Helga's younger sister, Resi, who confesses that she is in love with him.
Eventually, Campbell is captured when a U.S. infantryman recognises his voice. Before Campbell can be executed, Wirtanen arranges for his discreet release, telling him that U.S. forces will no longer pursue him, before going on to aid him in relocating to New York City. In New York City, Campbell lives a lonely existence, sustained only by memories of Helga and an indifferent curiosity as to his eventual fate. Mrs. Epstein, the mother of a Jewish doctor living in Campbell's building and a Holocaust survivor, is the only person he meets who suspects his true identity, but he seems to allay her suspicions by appearing ignorant of German.
The only friend that he makes is George Kraft, an old painter who lives in his building and who, through an extraordinary coincidence, happens to be a Soviet intelligence agent. Over many games of chess, Campbell reveals his secret past to this undercover agent, and Kraft tries to use this information to improve his reputation with his Soviet handlers by forcing Campbell into a position where he must flee to Moscow. He does so by subtly releasing information declaring that famous Nazi propagandist Howard Campbell has been living in New York since the end of the war, information that a white supremacist group picks up and excitedly publishes. Representatives of this organisation then arrive with a special gift for him: his wife Helga, long presumed dead. However, it is not long before Campbell discovers that Helga is, in fact, her own sister Resi, who has taken over Helga's identity.
Soon after, when an angry war veteran turns against him, the fascists shelter Campbell, along with Kraft and "Helga", in their New York hideout. Wirtanen again appears, this time warning Campbell of Kraft's true identity and explaining that the Russian has put Campbell in an awkward position with the fascists so he can persuade him to leave the country by plane, ostensibly for Mexico, but in fact for Moscow. He explains also that Resi is part of Kraft's plot. Campbell decides to return to the hideout to confront the pair and, in light of her exposure, Resi commits suicide. Moments later, the FBI raids the hideout but, as before, Wirtanen uses his influence to ensure Campbell walks free. Campbell returns to his wrecked apartment and decides to turn himself in to the Israelis to stand trial, returning to the apartment of the Jewish doctor and his mother, who had earlier been suspicious of him.
Campbell is taken to Haifa, Israel, where he is incarcerated in the cell below an unrepentant Adolf Eichmann. The film ends with the arrival of a letter from Wirtanen providing the corroborating evidence that Campbell was indeed an American spy during World War II. Moments later, Campbell hangs himself — not, he says, for crimes against humanity, but rather for "crimes against himself."
Mother Night received mixed to positive reviews, currently holding a 64% "fresh" rating.
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