Don't Miss Cradle Will Rock on DVD

Hank Azaria, Ruben Blades, Joan Cusack, John Cusack, Cary Elwes, Angus McFadyen, Bill Murray, Vanessa Redgrave, Susan Sarandon, John Turturro, Emily Watson. Directed by Tim Robbins. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1. 134 minutes. 1999. Touchstone 18288. R. $24.95.

Cradle Will Rock is an energetic, multilayered love song to the power of art. It's principally the tale of the WPA's Theater Project and the creation of Mark Blitzstein's socialist musical The Cradle Will Rock. At the same time, it also shows Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) hiring Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades) to create a mural for the lobby of Rockefeller Center.

Through these elements, director Robbins manages to tell a story that ranges from the halls of power in Washington, DC and the rich and famous, such as Rockefeller and William Randolph Hearst, to out-of-work actors (Emily Watson) and down-at-heels vaudeville performers (Bill Murray, in the performance of a lifetime). Its rich tapestry is woven with an energy that seems the personification of the can-do spirit of a country struggling out of a depression. The cast, too, is deep and rich. There are no half-hearted performances here, but John Turturro, Emily Watson, Murray, Vanessa Redgrave, and Hank Azaria (Blitzstein) stand out.

The film's lush, slightly overexposed, richly colored look is partly due to a slight loss of detail. I'm not sure this is a flaw, as it was a choice Robbins made for artistic reasons, but the DVD isn't a video showpiece. Nor does the soundtrack envelop the listener very much. The front three channels carry almost all the action.

I couldn't have told you that from my first viewing, however, as the story enveloped me sufficiently to drive such considerations from my mind. This ripping good yarn, told with verve, is brilliant moviemaking abetted by phenomenal acting. If you care about great storytelling, take Cradle Will Rock home tonight.