The first film I’ve seen that was directed by Robert Redford, Quiz Show is rightfully regarded as one of his best.
Based off a true story, the film follows the ethical minefield of a quiz show at the advent of television that encouraged its contestants to cheat by giving them the answers ahead of time. While the dramatization made it a huge hit for audiences, when one contestant is told to lose so that a new winner can replace him, an investigator sets to work in uncovering the conspiracy.
It is a very simple concept; the film’s backbone is following several unique and powerfully represented characters as they make morally shady decisions and how they cope under the pressures of being found out.
A lot of the film’s weight comes from Ralph Fiennes and John Turturro’s performances as two of the quiz show’s champions, as well as the production and set design of the film, very much set in the late 1950s (I’m always happy to see Turturro legitimately acting outside of the Transformer films!)
As I have said, the morality of the characters’ choices are in a very grey area, being offered huge amounts of money by cheating in such a undetectable manner would be hard to refuse, that and how the show made money by it and the audience loved it. This is the film’s core; television’s ability to turn honest people into quite infantile liars and yet have us, the viewer, feel sympathy.
There is a rather insidious quality that lurks inside the film’s core when considering today’s heavily dramatized, staged “reality” television that we are subjected to constantly!
It is a simple, short film that doesn’t drag or outstay its welcome. I wouldn’t say I was completely captured by it; there are many dialogue scenes that are inhuman with heavy question-and-answer sessions, deliberately showing the characters are “extremely intelligent people” and little else. But, Fiennes and Turturro are strong enough to make even gimmicky scenes like these effective for what they needed to be.