Mother Night (film)
|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|
|Edited by||Jay Rabinowitz|
New Line Cinema
|Distributed by||Fine Line Features|
|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 City, 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.
Confined in an Israeli jail, Howard W. Campbell, Jr. writes a memoir about his career in Nazi Germany. During the buildup to World War II, Campbell, an American playwright of German language stage productions, is approached by War Department operative Frank Wirtanen. Wirtanen asks Campbell to work as a spy for the U.S. in the approaching war, though he promises no reward or recognition. Campbell rejects the offer, but Wirtanen 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.
In the initial stages of the war, Campbell works his way up through Joseph Goebbels' propaganda organization, eventually becoming the "voice" of English language anti-Semitic pro-Nazi racist broadcasts aimed at U.S. citizens. Unknown to the Nazis, all of the idiosyncrasies of his speech – deliberate pauses, coughing, etc. – form a secret code that covertly transmits information to Allied forces. Late in the war, after his wife, Helga, is reported killed on the Eastern Front, Campbell visits her family in early 1945 outside Berlin, just before the Red Army arrives, and Helga's younger sister, Resi, confesses that she is in love with him.
Eventually, Campbell is captured when a U.S. infantryman recognizes his voice. Before he can be executed, Wirtanen arranges for Campbell's discreet release and helps his relocation to New York City. There, Campbell lives a lonely existence for 15 years, sustained only by memories of Helga and an indifferent curiosity about his eventual fate. Mrs. Epstein, a Holocaust survivor living in Campbell's building, is the only person who suspects his true identity; he seems to avoid her suspicions by feigning ignorance of German. Campbell's only friend is George Kraft, an elderly painter who, through an extraordinary coincidence, happens to be a Soviet intelligence agent.
Over many games of chess, Campbell reveals his secret past to Kraft, who tries to use this information to improve his standing with his handlers by forcing Campbell into a position where he must flee to Moscow. He leaks information about Campbell's whereabouts, which gets the attention of a neo-Nazi organization. Representatives of this group meet Campbell and present him with who seems to be Helga. However, it is not long before Campbell discovers that Helga is actually Resi, who has taken Helga's identity to escape from then-Communist East Germany.
The neo-Nazis shelter Campbell, along with Kraft and Resi, in their Manhattan hideout. Wirtanen reappears, warning Campbell of Kraft's true identity and explaining that Kraft and Resi have put Campbell in an awkward position with the neo-Nazis to ensure his transfer to Moscow. Campbell returns to the hideout to confront the pair; in light of her exposure, Resi commits suicide. Moments later, the FBI raids the hideout but, again, 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.
Campbell is taken to Haifa, 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 a U.S. spy during World War II. Moments later, Campbell hangs himself — not, he says, for crimes against humanity, but rather for "crimes against myself."
- Nick Nolte as Howard W. Campbell, Jr.
- Brawley Nolte as young Howard
- Sheryl Lee as Helga Noth / Resi Noth
- Kirsten Dunst as young Resi
- Alan Arkin as George Kraft
- Arye Gross as Dr. Abraham Epstein
- Frankie Faison as Robert Sterling Wilson
- Gerard Parkes as Father Patrick Keeley
- Vlasta Vrána as August Krapptauer
- Zach Grenier as Joseph Goebbels
- Norman Rodway as Werner Noth
- John Goodman as Major Frank Wirtanen
- Bill Corday and Bronwen Mantel as Mr. and Mrs. Campbell
- David Strathairn as Lt. Bernard B. O'Hare
- Henry Gibson as Voice of Adolf Eichmann
- Kurt Vonnegut (cameo) as Sad man on street
- Adolf Hitler (uncredited archive footage) as himself - Behind Us Comes Germany speech
Mother Night received mixed to positive reviews, currently holding a 64% "fresh" rating.