Mother Night (1996) - Rotten Tomatoes

Mother Night (1996)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Howard W. Campbell Jr. (Nick Nolte) is an American playwright living in pre-World War II Berlin. He is happily married to his lovely wife Helga (Sheryl Lee), and is acclaimed for his work, which gains him entree into Berlin's highest political and social circles. Then one day he's approached by Frank Wirtenan (John Goodman), an American intelligence agent who offers Campbell the opportunity to spy for his country. Campbell refuses. He wonders why he was asked. "You're obsessed with the notion of pure hearts and heroism. You love good and you hate evil ...and you'd sacrifice anything in the name of romance," Wirtenan tells him. So Campbell agrees. He seamlessly infiltrates the Nazis and gets a job spewing hateful Nazi propaganda on a weekly radio show beamed across Europe. He barely survives the war, his wife supposedly doesn't, and finds himself living in New York City, penniless and befriended by a next-door neighbor, a painter and fellow widower (Alan Arkin). He might have lived quietly beyond that, but gets found by a ragged group of American neo-Nazis -- and, incredibly, his wife. The neo-Nazis publicize his presence and he learns that his neighbor is actually a spy and that his wife is really her little sister. Guilt-stricken and alone, Campbell turns himself in to the Israelis, who charge him with being a war criminal. He's about to go on trial in Israel when he receives a letter from Wirteman promising to reveal his heroic spying and exonerate him, but Campbell hangs himself in his cell.
R (adult situations/language, violence)
Action & Adventure , Drama , Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
In Theaters:
New Line Home Entertainment

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Nick Nolte
as Howard Campbell
Sheryl Lee
as Helga Noth
Alan Arkin
as George Kraft
John Goodman
as Frank Wirtanen
Kirsten Dunst
as Resi Noth
Arye Gross
as Abraham Epstein
Frankie Faison
as Black Fuhrer of Harlem
David Strathairn
as Bernard B. O'Hare
Bernard Behrens
as Dr. Lionel Jones
Henry Gibson
as Adolph Eichmann's Voice
Norman Rodway
as Werner Noth
Anna Berger
as Epstein's Mother
Anthony J. Robinow
as Prison Warden
Michael McGill
as Prison Official
Shimon Aviel
as Guard Bernard Liebman
Bill Corday
as Campbell's Father
Bronwen Mantel
as Campbell's Mother
Brawley Nolte
as Young Howard Campbell
Louis Strauss
as Old Jewish Man
Zach Grenier
as Joseph Goebbels
Richard Zeman
as Rudolph Hess
Thomas Hauff
as SS Officer
Jeff Pufah
as Young German Soldier
Vlasta Vrana
as August Krapptauer
Gerard Parkes
as Father Keeley
Michael Moran
as Violent Man
William Haughland
as TV Reporter
Joel Miller
as Israeli Vice-Consul
Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
as Sad Man on Street
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Critic Reviews for Mother Night

All Critics (25) | Top Critics (6)

A serious drama that is also funny without crossing into burlesque.

January 1, 2000
USA Today
Top Critic

Nick Nolte is excellent in Keith Gordon's ambitious but flawed adaptation of Vonnegut's fascinating novel.

Full Review… | April 28, 2011

Surprisingly good Vonnegut adaptation

July 14, 2005
Juicy Cerebellum

Helps us to see that there is no escaping the burdens of living in a political world.

Full Review… | August 28, 2002
Spirituality and Practice

Wonderfully mysterious and emotionally draining.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000

Audience Reviews for Mother Night


Far and away the best adaptation of Vonnegut (probably the best suited of KV's works, too). It is a fascinating film, and in some ways improves upon the novel. It also stands on its own if you have NOT read the book, which can't really be said for most of the other KV adaptations. Check it out.

Gary M.
Gary M.

One of the strangest films I have seen based on Nazis and World War II. It was great seeing Nick Nolte really play this role. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is one of the greatest novelists in American literature history and his story really comes alive in Keith Gordon's adaptation. The entire story of Howard Campbell Jr. makes me wonder if someone like that really existed in Berlin during the height of World War II. I also loved John Goodman as the OSS agent who liaises with Campbell. What a screwed up assignment for Campbell. Great shots of black and white in the prison as well. Wonderful work by Nick Nolte and Sheryl Lee. A very good film.

Christopher Staaf
Christopher Staaf

Tight script and direction with some good performances in this underrated WW2 drama.

Anthony Valletta
Anthony Valletta

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