In Costa-Gavras's MUSIC BOX (1990) Jessica Lange plays successful
criminal lawyer Ann Talbot. One day the Justice Department serves
notice on her lovable father Michael J. Laszlo (Armin Mueller-Stahl)
that he is to be stripped of his American citizenship, deported, and
sent back to his native, and Communist, Hungry to stand trial for war
crimes committed back in 1944-45. Ann insists that they have the wrong
Michael J. Laszlo and reluctantly agrees to defend her father although
she knows nothing about immigration law.
As soon as you see Costa-Gavras on the marquee, you know two
things. One, conspiracy theories will abound, and two, this will be a
fascinating show. Think of him as Oliver Stone smoothed down a bit.
Early on fellow lawyer Mack Jones (Albert Hall) warns Ann, "What
do we know about our parents?" The prosecutor on the case, Jack Burke
(Frederic Forrest), thinks that Ann should not defend her own father
and advises her, "You trust your heart, you gonna get it broken."
As Ann digs deeper she finds that her father is accused of being
in the special SS section of the Hungarian police where they raped and
slaughtered innocent victims. Her father is a known anti-Communist who
was arrested protesting the brutal Communist regime in Hungary so the
mystery is who is telling the truth? Is it the supposed eyewitnesses
sent over by the Communist government in Hungry to testify against him
or is he telling the truth that he was merely a clerk in the police
department and that these charges are all trumped up so the Communists
can get him back and kill him? You may think you know the answer. You
may be wrong. There are a lot of twists and turns in this and every
Costa-Gavras movie (BETRAYED, MISSING, etc.). The ending is excellent.
I am a big fan of courtroom drama of which there is not near
enough in the modern cinema. In MUSIC BOX, the trial makes up the
large central portion of the picture. It is excellent and the best
part of the show.
The acting for Jessica Lange, which got her an Academy Award
nomination, is unsettling. Her nervous laughter provides an omen for
doubts which start to surface as the show develops. The performance by
Armin Mueller-Stahl is as powerful although not as elaborate as
Lange's. He has a presence and a look which simultaneously evokes
contradictory feelings of confidence and doubt in the audience. Watch
especially how much energy radiates from his eyes.
There are a lot of excellent minor performances, Donald Moffat as
the anti-Semitic father-in-law Harry Talbot, Lukas Haas as the trusting
son Mikey Talbot, and my personal favorite, J. S. Block as Judge
Silver, showing us how a judge in a controversial case should act.
This could have served as Judge Ito's training film.
The script by Hollywood's controversial writer Joe Eszterhas is
strictly edge of the seat material. Overall, the effect of the script,
the direction, and all of the acting make for a highly moving film.
MUSIC BOX runs a little too long at 2:04. It is rated PG-13 for a
few bad words and a controversial subject. There is no sex, nudity, or
violence, but they talk about some horrific crimes. The show would be
fine for teenagers. For kids younger than that, consider the material
about the crimes in making a judgment, but in no case would I recommend
the movie to kids under 10. I recommend the movie to you and award the
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes