• U.S.

A Jerk, Perhaps, But Our Jerk

3 minute read
James Poniewozik

As far as much of the U.S. is concerned, Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York City for four months–from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when he became a symbol of tough-minded resilience, to the end of his term. We in New York had a longer and more complicated relationship with him. Some loved the U.S. Attorney turned pol for presiding over a huge drop in crime; some hated him for taking a prosecutorial attitude toward everything from race relations to his personal life.

America’s Rudy, meet New York City’s Rudy: that’s the idea behind the biopic Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story (USA, March 30, 8 p.m. E.T.). Giuliani’s story fit the standard three-act arc neatly. He rose to glory, busting crime first as a prosecutor, then as a two-term mayor; he fell into ignominy by mishandling alleged police-brutality cases and dealing callously with the public disintegration of his marriage; and he was redeemed by 9/11 as well as by the mellowing effects of his 2000 diagnosis of and battle against prostate cancer.

The story begins near its end, as Giuliani (James Woods), sagging in the polls and term-limited from running again, is about to be rendered a lame duck by the mayoral primary on Sept. 11. When the attack comes, Giuliani’s efforts to organize the recovery and comfort the city are shot in jittery handheld video, giving the scenes a raw, home-movie look that meshes seamlessly with real footage of the Twin Towers burning and people leaping to their death. The audacious technique flirts with sensationalism but also slices through any jadedness about these all-too-familiar images.

Rudy intercuts the 9/11 scenes with a more ordinary bio story, which–perhaps appropriately for its workaholic subject–has a much better feel for his love affair with his job than for his human relationships. Giuliani’s wife Donna Hanover (Penelope Ann Miller) is an enigma, given little to do but express various flavors of exasperation. Woods, however, has Giuliani nailed, capturing his sarcasm, his dry speaking style and his inability to accept criticism. Woods’ 9/11 scenes convincingly show how the tragedy restored the mayor’s sense of purpose and made him America’s Rudy. If Woods errs at all, it’s because, unable to resist an actorly delivery, he makes Rudy a more dramatic speaker than he is.

The movie is based on a book by Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice, hardly a Giuliani ally, which fed suspicion that it might be a hatchet job. Yes, it makes Giuliani look like a jerk, but that’s both an insult and a compliment. You boo Rudy the jerk when he ends his marriage via a press conference, but you cheer Rudy the jerk when he pushes around insider traders and Mob bosses. Giuliani’s philosophy was that it takes a tough guy to run a tough city. If that doesn’t always come across prettily on screen, that–as Rudy should know well–is just tough. –By James Poniewozik

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