There are some definite similarities between this film and Bullets Over Broadway, minus the simple fact that they are both about the theater and arts. However, where Woody Allen’s film was more about the absurd (as all of his films are), this one deals with the relationship between art and politics. Though I know where Tim Robbins stands politically (since he wrote and directed), he still makes some very insightful observations through the eyes of Depression-era society. He could not have rounded up a stronger ensemble cast for this film, however the stand-outs were easily John Turturro and Cherry Jones who probably had the most interesting characters in the film. The best parts of the film were surrounding the home life of John Turturro’s character as he maneuvers between his old world (an ever-increasingly fascist Italy) and new world values (his love of the perceived freedom that America gives him to pursue his interests in arts) and the congressional hearings between Senator Dies and Cherry Jones’ character, the head of the Federal Theater Agency. The rest of the film was good, but these parts stood out from the rest.
Cusack, who played Nelson Rockefeller, did a good job of playing a falsely refined, greedy Capitalist who used art for political advantage and profit. He does not have an incredibly big role and there was nothing that really stuck out about the character to make it an even remotely memorable performance for Cusack. Overall, it was a good one time view, but did not really have enough to draw the viewer back to another viewing.
There are very few animated musical films that I have enjoyed. This is not one of them. I normally don’t get mad if movies stretch the truths of history in order to make the film more dramatic or entertaining, but this animated film made this period of Russian history rather dull and ridiculous. Rasputin is held in some kind of underground purgatory where he is constantly in a state of decay where body parts are constantly falling off. Rasputin was an interesting enough type of character that he did not need this gimmick. This is just boring and the music is terrible. There is very little creativity in it. Now semblance of Russian music or anything to be found throughout the film.
John Cusack does an alright job of voice acting, but there was nothing challenging about the part and it didn’t require any extra talent from him. The most impressive voice acting was done by Hank Azaria (of The Simpsons fame) who does the voice work for Bartok, Rasputin’s bat companion. He supplies the only humor, and therefore, the only interesting part of the film. Overall, I would never recommend this to kids. Sure it is clean and “wholesome” and what not, but I would never subject any kids to poor cinema altogether.