American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
There comes a moment in "Music Box" when several important photographs pop up, one after another, from the bowels of a music box - as if they were being ejected by a copying machine. It is intended as a dramatic moment, but it is all too neat, the clockwork machinery operating right on time for the requirements of the plot, and the entire movie is like that. It is put together out of pieces taken off the shelf, and although it is about suffering, trust and family love, it has no heart.
The movie stars Jessica Lange as a Chicago attorney whose father, an immigrant from Hungary, has led a blameless life for many years. He is loved by all who know him. Then investigators appear to accuse him of being a Nazi war criminal. They want to put him on trial for his crimes and deport him. The daughter, of course, is convinced of her father's innocence. It is all a mistake, some kind of insane bureaucratic nightmare, and she will defend him in court and prove that they have the wrong man.
Consider for a moment the possibilities in this plot. Is it possible that the movie could end with the old man found innocent? No, it is not. There is no market for a movie about Nazi-hunters bringing false charges against the innocent. So the man must be guilty. Either that, or the plot must "really" be about something else - with the issue of guilt only a smoke screen. What I particularly disliked about "Music Box" is that it takes the easy way out. It is not about guilt or innocence; it is a courtroom thriller, with all of the usual automatic devices like last-minute evidence and surprise witnesses.
This is the second movie in two years by the team of director Costa-Gavras, writer Joe Eszterhas and producer Irwin Winkler. The previous one was "Betrayed," the 1988 thriller starring Debra Winger as an FBI undercover agent who falls in love with a seemingly decent young man (Tom Berenger) and then discovers he belongs to a right-wing neo-Nazi group. At first she believes he cannot be guilty - he is too nice a man to believe those things. Then her life is endangered as she discovers that nice guys can deceive you.