Mother Night is a provoking, moving and, at times, absurdly funny film. It has a simple but unsettling theme: if you behave like a Nazi, then you probably are a Nazi. Stepping into the brogues of one of Kurt Vonnegut's most memorable cult characters, craggy Nick Nolte puts in a fine performance as Howard W Campbell Jnr, an American playwright living in late '30s Germany, married to a beautiful German actress, and generally considered to be an all-round pillar of German society. One day an innocent stroll in the park is interrupted by an American spymaster (played with breezy assurance by the avuncular John Goodman), who suggests to Campbell that, since he's hobnobbing with the Nazi High Command, he should do his bit for the war effort and turn his hand to a spot of cloak-and-dagger spywork. Cameras hidden in briefcases, secret radio transmitters, ""Are you receiving me, mother duck?"" - - you know the drill.
Campbell dutifully abandons his apolitical stance to broadcast weekly anti-Semitic radio rants which, by means of carefully placed pauses, coughs and ticks, contain encrypted information for the earwigging Allies. Ironically, because of these vicious blusterings, the Nazis, his friends and his family all think he's a top-notch fascist, and he becomes a hero of the Third Reich. Meanwhile, Allies and Jews begin to view him as a despicable genocidal bigot, and, although he's providing vital information for them, their high opinion of him wanes. The ironic thing is that they're both wrong. Campbell is, in fact, a beacon of bravery - a courageous cuckoo of dissent nestling deep in the wolf's lair - - and nobody knows it but him. With the end of the war, our hero heads to New York, but a life of quiet seclusion proves dangerously elusive. He is forgotten by his wartime bosses and becomes a vagabond.
Mother Night is a cleverly crafted, engaging story, exploring the idea that belief in one's own propaganda is an integral part of human survival but, taken to extremes, it can become an integral part of human destruction too (watch the film - - it'll make more sense). Beautifully shot, and with compelling performances from both Nolte and Goodman, this is a movie that asks more questions than it answers, and keeps you guessing to the bitter end.