Mad City Movie Essay Reviews

More Realistic Than We Like To Admit...

When I first saw that "Mad City" had an average rating of 6.0 in IMDb, I got a little confused: Why doesn't it get something higher? After all, it features a great direction by Costa-Gavras, good performances (especially from the lead actors), and an interesting plot. So why did it not get something like an 8.0, the grade I voted for the film? It occurs to me that a possible reason for a restrained vote might be that many people are perhaps not ready to admit that what is shown in the film is the naked reality: In other words, it is difficult for some to swallow that today the events are not simply portrayed, but are actually shaped by the media, and especially the TV; the news people can make someone a hero, and at the next moment make him a hated man; they can produce a big story out of nothing, and they can sweep a significant event under the carpet without anyone noticing.

Costa-Gavras illustrates this vividly in "Mad City". Sam (Travolta) has been fired from his job as a security guard in a museum. In desperation, he goes to his employer armed with a gun and explosives, trying to make a pointless request to have his job back. However, things get out of hand as he accidentally shoots a former colleague, and he decides to take some kids hostage. The above events unfold in front of the eyes of Max (Hoffman), a TV reporter whose career has flopped, who happens to be there. Max immediately takes advantage of his golden opportunity, and gets the scoop. Sam follows Max's directions, and the media industry gradually shapes the developments of the saga, with the authorities mainly watching rather than influencing the events.

It may sound exaggerated, but sadly this is how things work today. Publicity is everything, and criminals of all stripes, from naive types such as Sam, to sinister ones, want to use media to convey their message through their deplorable acts; media people, from their side, mainly care to get high ratings, and hence try to exploit such situations towards their own advantage, not the advantage of the general public. The result is ugly, and the few exceptions simply confirm the rule.

Costa-Gavras has done a great job in portraying this problem through this fictional, yet interesting story. Both Hoffman and Travolta are very convincing in their roles, the first as the ruthless journalist who starts to see the light, and the second as the confused, victim-cum-criminal.

I believe "Mad City" is a movie that one has to view with an open mind. If this happens, you will never watch the 8 o' clock news in the same angle as before... 8/10.

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As played by Mr. Travolta, the misunderstood innocent at the center of a news crisis (as in media-circus movies from ''The Front Page'' to Billy Wilder's ''Ace in the Hole'' to ''Citizen Ruth'') really is a touching figure. His confusion is real. His life is hard. Everything about him is slightly off, like the spelling of his last name. And so, as Max leads the press on a campaign to sentimentalize Sam's situation, the movie does it, too.

But as Max and Sam become friendly, with Max helping Sam package and exploit the facts of his life, the two stars interact cleverly and show off their formidable wiles. Meanwhile, Mr. Costa-Gavras tells their story at an entertaining clip, and the screenplay by Tom Matthews touches all necessary bases. The press asks a wounded museum guard (Bill Nunn) idiotic questions: ''How do you feel?'' ''Are you all right?'' The local news packages Sam's story as melodramatically as possible, complete with a solemn title, ''Hostage Crisis at the Museum.'' And the bigfoot from the network, a star anchor played deftly by Alan Alda, flexes the power of television royalty. All defer to this embodiment of network prestige when he walks into a room, or onto a plane, so he can visit the museum and try to upstage his old nemesis, Max.

For every glaring touch, like the film's way of linking museum exhibits of extinct species with Sam, ''Mad City'' succeeds in delivering a knowing wink or two. The best concern Ms. Kirshner's fledgling journalist. Of course, she is caught up in the hostage story and gets a star-is-born chance to show her tabloid mettle. Coaxing an interview out of Sam's mother, she sums it all up perfectly by declaring: ''I want to show people that Sam can't be all that bad if he has a dog he loves!''

''Mad City'' is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It includes mild profanity and very brief violence.


Directed by Constantin Costa-Gavras; written by Tom Matthews, based on a story by Mr. Matthews and Eric Williams; director of photography, Patrick Blossier; edited by Francoise Bonnot; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Catherine Hardwicke; produced by Arnold Kopelson and Anne Kopelson; released by Warner Brothers. Running time: 114 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Dustin Hoffman (Max Brackett), John Travolta (Sam Baily), Alan Alda (Hollander), Mia Kirshner (Laurie), William Atherton (Dohlen), Blythe Danner (Mrs. Banks) and Bill Nunn (museum guard).

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