EW Staff
November 16, 1999 AT 05:00 AM EST

Cradle Will Rock

Current Status
In Season
Hank Azaria, Bob Balaban, Ruben Blades, Joan Cusack, John Cusack, Cary Elwes, Philip Baker Hall, Cherry Jones, Bill Murray, Susan Sarandon, John Turturro, Dominic Chianese, Paul Giamatti, Vanessa Redgrave
Tim Robbins

We gave it a B

”It’s always a risk when you make an elaborate film that doesn’t involve people getting murdered,” says Sarandon of her longtime companion’s seven-years-in-the-making epic period picture. Based on events surrounding an actual 1937 musical directed by Orson Welles that was shut down by government injunction for the cast’s alleged left-wing politics (but performed guerrilla-style without costumes, scenery, or props, and ultimately taken to Broadway), ”Cradle Will Rock” makes ”elaborate” seem like an understatement.

Even despite his ”Dead Man Walking” cred, it’s hard to imagine Robbins pitching such a political (i.e., complicated) project to studio execs weaned on monosyllabic explanations. ”Most executives do belong to the one-sentence-pitch school,” says Robbins, ”but [Disney president] Joe Roth is a different kind of person — he actually reads these scripts.” In fact, Disney gave Robbins an amazingly free hand. ”They didn’t have any demands about script changes or problems with editing,” he says. ”They were extremely hands-off.”

The project’s unique appeal might have something to do with Robbins’ ability to pull together one of the season’s most interesting casts (John Cusack does a fierce Nelson Rockefeller, and Cary Elwes is a dashing young John Houseman). It seems Team Rodent did good: ”Cradle Will Rock” picked up great buzz after it charmed the hordes at Cannes. BUZZ FACTOR: 6

Go to the official website.

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