At first, Rudy seemed to have a lot going for it. The film’s timely story, about the controversial life of former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, stood out in Hollywood like a smoke signal indicating money, ratings and tremendous interest. And who better to scribe it than writer Stanley Weiser, a frequent Oliver Stone collaborator? The possibilities for the title role extended to the top tier of the acting world. Wait. This was a television movie for the USA Network, home of “Renegade” and “Silk Stockings.” Enter James Woods, one of the nuttier actors in show business, as Giuliani, thereby lending the project his star wattage and a whole lot of sleeze potential. After splashing their promotional campaign across the screens of TVs and a few movie theatres, USA premiered the film at the end of March, and (surprise) it’s a painful turd.
The biggest complaint about Rudy is the most obvious one – it’s a TV movie (that’s not on HBO). This means a bad script, overly dramatic acting, lame music and an overall cheapness that permeates from the film’s carcass.
Rudy gets off on techniques like having its characters talk to themselves in empty rooms. Entire conversations seem to have no dramatic purpose – they exist only to shovel chunks of recent history into the television wasteland. In films of quality, expository dialogue is avoided at all costs, mainly because humans, well, most humans, don’t talk like robots.
Rudy Giuliani spent 20 years working in New York politics, keeping a focused mien during a roller coaster ride of race relations, conservatism, infidelity, health problems and a certain unthinkable disaster. Unsurprisingly, Woods has a shameless field day depicting his life as a gigantic Space Mountain of self-determination.
Generally credited with cleaning up the city of New York and facing the 9/11 aftermath with admirable calm and empathy, during his time in office Giuliani also abandoned his wife and battled critics, who were unhappy with his handling of police shootings and interpretations of the First Amendment.
This is a person that could have brought out a palette of emotions in any consummate actor, which Woods certainly qualified as, before he started accepting every role offered to him. He plays the character with little feeling and wastes significant time on little nuances like stuttering, head nodding, and random gesturing. These attributes might define the real Giuliani, but it’s also certain that the real Giuliani lived his life with much more emotion than Woods channels here.
One of the most disturbing details about the film is the limited funds allocated to produce it. The story of a man who dedicated his life to serving New York was filmed in Montreal. This is an alarming trend in Hollywood, with many films heading across the border in search of cheaper filming locations, but how the hell can you shoot Rudy in Canada? Sure, the film execs save some cash…as New York film crews struggle to find work and a network called USA backs the life story of an important American figure. Whoever said 9/11 was the death of irony just turned into a maid ironing a shirt with a “Y” on it.
To make matters worse, the impulsive splicing and dicing of real 9/11 footage and staged scenes with Woods is poorly done. During the staged scenes, the lighting is so off, Woods might as well have been filmed on the sun. Also, did Giuliani’s hair and makeup really stay that perfect throughout the worst day in the history of New York?
Anyone looking for an adequate depiction of Giuliani should check out the book that inspired this film. It’s safe to say that any book with a publishing deal probably triumphs this weak attempt at telling Giuliani’s story. Fortunately, a talented director like Oliver Stone or Milos Forman might still consider making Giuliani the subject of a future film, since no one will remember this waste of a combover.
Shawn Wines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.