Ben Oliver

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Quiz Show

It’s not like we’re hardened criminals here. We’re in show business.
31 October 2014

Robert Redford directs this quiz show fixing scandal story based on true events in the 1950s. John Tuturro plays Herbie Stempel, a champion on the show Twenty One, who gets asked to take a fall and deliberately resign off the show. The producers replace him with Charles Van Doren, a professor, who is given all the questions and answers beforehand.

The idea is that the long winning streaks are crowd pleasers and drive ad revenues. Every few weeks as the audience tires of the champion they swap him or her out and replace them with a new champion aimed at a different demographic.

Redford does a great job behind the camera here. Quiz Show is a tight, well put togther production that invokes just the right conspiratorial atmosphere, without going too far. The screenplay is well written and subtle, especially considering the source material doesn’t seem to offer as much gold as it initally may have seemed.

For me that’s where the film flags a bit; at its core the story just isn’t that interesting. It’s not shocking to learn that what you see on TV may not always be what’s actually happening. To be fair to Redford, he doesn’t try to build any tension where there isn’t any, but his earnest attempt to tell the story leaves the whole picture a little dry. Nothing illegal is happening here; no one has really been wronged.

Nevertheless, Quiz Show is a captivating film even if it is a little straight-forward. Interesting to see it got a couple of Oscar nods including best picture, and it’s sad to see it lost out to Forrest Gump. It isn’t up to the standard of Pulp Fiction, mind you, which was also nominated that year.

Time will likely forget Quiz Show, but if you’re after something interesting (and not too taxing), then it’s definitely worth a look.