[Last Film I Watch] Music Box (1989)

Music Box poster

Title: Music Box
Year: 1989
Country: USA
Language: English, Hungarian
Genre: Crime, Drama
Director: Costa-Gavras
Writer: Joe Eszterhas
Music: Philippe Sarde
Cinematography: Patrick Blossier
Jessica Lange
Armin Mueller-Stahl
Frederic Forrest
Donald Moffat
Lukas Haas
Cheryl Lynn Bruce
Michael Rooker
J.S. Block
Ned Schmidtke
Sol Frieder
Mari Töröcsik
Elzbieta Czyzewska
Albert Hall
Rating: 8.0/10

Music Box 1989

Costa-Gavras’s USA production MUSIC BOX is a slow-burn holocaust introspection set in Chicago during the 1980s, where a divorced attorney Anne Talbot (Lange), decides to defend her father Michael J. Laszlo (Mueller-Stahl), who is a Hungarian immigrant and is accused of war crimes during WWII, only to discover things that will shatter her entire belief system.

Simply deeming the case as a mistaken identity, Anne has firm belief in her father, who flees to America as a refugee after the war, gets married and then raises Anne and her brother Karchy (Rooker) alone after the early death of their mother, he is such a loving father figure, being greatly admired by Anne’s son, his grandson Mikey (Haas), so there are high hopes that justice will prevail in Anne’s side, especially set side by side with the aggressive prosecutor Jack Burke (Forrest) from the Office of Special Investigations.

Over a half of the picture is a standard court drama, where key witness affirmatively recalls all the horrifying atrocities Mishka – Michael’s original name – has done as a commander of an Arrow Cross death squad, the scale has been slowly but surely tipped in Anne’s conscience, it is extremely hard for anyone to come to terms with such a painful realisation – your amiable old man was once an extreme racist and a ruthless killer, the flagrant crime he has committed is beyond any sane person’s widest imagination. The last nail in the coffin is the photos hidden in the titular music box, in the car by herself, Jessica Lange delivers an utterly compelling tour-de-force after this appalling revelation, and the subsequent confrontational scenes with her father, where she sadly realises Mishka has never changed, he was a Nazi in his youth, and he has always been a Nazi with his vicious prejudice towards those whom he calls “pigs” in the wartime, time can repair many things, erase our memories, but it just cannot change one’s innermost self, no matter how friendly Mishka seems to be in the peace time (he can fond a genial bond with Anne’s gypsy assistant, whereas 40 years ago, he murdered scores of them and cursed them “ wine”), his true nature is always lying beneath (like the push-ups), unrepentant and will have no qualm in revealing itself if there is a chance.

The film is a grand canvas for its actors, apart from Lange’s Oscar-nominated turn, Armin Mueller-Stahl impresses vehemently with his repressed monstrosity, a man who can confidently make peace with his inhuman transgressions and shares a shockingly intense face-off with Lange in the climax. So is Frederic Forrest, shouts out the most important message about what new generations should do towards the holocaust, he is in no intention to persecute an old man, the entire case is a reminder that we should never forget why and how these tragedies happened, to remember, for generations and generations, so we have a good chance not repeating it in the future, since human beings always make the same mistake, again and again.

Loosely based on writer Joe Eszterhas’ personal story, MUSIC BOX is a formally rigorous (the hurried do-the-right-thing finale), politically clear-minded, and courageously adamant (to fault the ugly side of humanity) melodrama, gravely needs a re-introduction to the new generations of audience since the subject matter is ever so timeless and important, two thumbs up to Costa-Gavras and his crew.

Oscar 1989  Music Box


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