Review: Quiz Show

This past Wednesday, I saw the 1994 film Quiz Show.

Set in the 1950s, this American drama tells a story based on the quiz show scandal of the era in which the show Twenty One purposely rigged their game so that the champion would continue to reign, in an effort to boost ratings. The main story follows the winning streak of Charles Van Doren, once he trimphs over then-champion Herb Strempel in a fixed match (in which Strempel unwillingly has to answer incorrectly). The circumstances surrounding the entire scandal attract the curious eyes of lawyer Richard Goodwin who faces lots of hurdles during his investigation.

Now, without providing a flowery description, I feel the need to express that this story "tells the true story" rather than simply being "based on a true story" (granted there were some liberties taken with perception, but it's understandable). Maybe I just don't watch enough historical dramas, but it didn't feel like your typically embellished story laced with some supernatural elements that help draw in the viewer. The suspense felt genuine, not forced. And the characters felt like people, not caricatures (though the accents were pretty amusing).

In an effort to avoid spoilers, I will simply say that the movie has a solid plot and is well worth watching. But what drew me in was not the setting (which was they portrayed very well, especially in high-definition), not the acting, but presentation of ethical and moral issues each character faces. The plot was pretty straight forward, and you half-expect what to happen next, but underlying messages are rather powerful.

Just to rattle off a few things the film realistically conveys:
  • The power of the lie: what it takes and what it does
  • Better ratings: the "truth" or a [fictional] "story"?
  • Public preference: the American story or the handsome hero
  • The corporate scandal and the stories they tell to hide it
  • The lengths people are willing to go for what they crave
I wouldn't call this one of my "favorite" movies, but it's something worth watching at some point. The questions it raises, from the onset to the outcome, especially once you realize this was based on a true story, certainly make you question society's values. But the remarkable thing is you won't be leaving the film with that sort of post-sci-fi-pessimism or post-tragic-drama-depression. No, it'll just leave you wondering, with a quasi-feel-good sensation.

As a person who isn't much of a movie-goer, I appreciate these rare instances when I get to watch something engaging from a completely different genre than my "usual".

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