The Man Comes Around:
Rudy Giuliani On The Small Screen
March 25, 2003 | When, in the aftermath of 9/11 people across the country started calling Rudy Giuliani "America's Mayor," a lot of New Yorkers couldn't help but think "if the rest of America loves Rudy so much, they can have him." While nearly everybody appreciated the way Giuliani rallied the city, heading directly to the World Trade Center during the attack (while the president and vice president were hiding) and giving clear, detailed instructions to the city throughout the crisis, that didn't erase the eight years of turbulence and controversy that had made up the bulk of his two terms in office. TV audiences will have the chance to learn a little more about the long, strange journey of Rudolph Giuliani when the USA Network airs Rudy on March 30.
Rudy, ostensibly based on the book Rudy!: An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani by the Village Voice's Wayne Barrett, follows the man from his days as the Assistant Attorney General under President Reagan in 1982 through to the aftermath of the attack. Predictably, the film frames Guiliani's life as if it were a series of flashbacks triggered by the events of 9/11. It even opens with him mournfully predicting his own obsolescence the night before the attack. "September 10, 2001" the title reads as Rudy preciously states "This time tomorrow I'll be history... [They'll say] 'He was mayor. He did some good. He cleaned up the city.'"
It's true that the primaries in the race to follow Giuliani to City Hall were scheduled for September 11th (He was unable to run for a third term due to term limits) but it's doubtful the man really saw it the way the film does. More likely he looked at pictures of Mark Green and Freddy Ferrer (the Democratic nominees) and thought to himself "What a bunch of clowns," shaking his head in disgust.
But that's part of why Rudy is such an interesting character. He's enigmatic and contradictory. He cares about his city but there are also large parts of the populace that he never seems to care about at all. He was obsessed with making New York safer but in the process left a lot of people feeling far more endangered. He wanted New York to regain the sheen of a cultural Mecca but he applied his own skewed sense of culture and many times stomped on the toes of those with whom he disagreed.
Rudy does a pretty good job of recapping the high- and low-points of Giuliani's career to date. In an early sequence Rudy categorically differentiates between Cuban and Haitian refugees, a hot topic from his days in the Justice Department and an example of the kind of convenient logic he'd use consistently to make the points he needed to make.
There are also segments on his groundbreaking prosecution against the mob and corrupt investment bankers. There is also an explanation of his "broken windows" approach to law enforcement that the deterioration of a city begins with seemingly innocuous signs like broken windows and that problems are better nipped in the bud. This philosophy undeniably made the city safer, particularly in the tourist and corporation-friendly parts of Manhattan where Rudy built his legacy. But this also led to an overbearing attitude where Giuliani used the police force to roll over any people or communities that didn't play things his way.
This mix of gruffness and quality-of-life concern always made Rudy a much more spontaneous and exciting politician to watch than the usual run-of-the-mill beaurocrat. Never afraid to tell a reporter or opponent to shut up, Giuliani bristled at a challenge. Casting James Woods as Rudy Giuliani was a great idea. Even when the film takes shortcuts, skipping years at a time or allowing important incidents to take place off-screen, Woods has the pissed-off intensity that keeps the viewer engaged. He doesn't have the material here to do really great work (the film is basically an outline) but he holds it together in a way that makes it seem like he was the only possible choice.
Followers of political intrigue will also be happy at references to some key players, like Judge Kimba Wood (who was later the Clinton appointee felled by the "nannygate" scandal) and Ray Harding (the Boss Tweed-esque head of the Liberal party in New York. Village Voice readers know that his son, a hapless Giuliani appointee, has recently been busted on corruption and child pornography charges.) New York politics is insider stuff with the same names popping up again and again.
There are moments in Rudy where the mayor is shown to be a real hands-on guy, like his personally confronting some fish market mobsters or a dreaded squeegee man. He even gets to the bottom of a funny bit of inefficiency that costs the city big bucks. These moments serve to make Rudy the type of guy you want getting things done. The film does soft-pedal his rougher side a bit, however, only mentioning the Amadou Diallo shooting and not the Abner Louima torture case or the Patrick Dorismond shooting, all instances of police brutality that Giuliani helped make much worse with thoughtless conduct after the fact.
Still, it seems likely that Giuliani's brave actions on September 11th and after are what he'll mostly be remembered for. The film pretty faithfully follows his movements that day; his heading straight downtown at first word of the first crash, his setting up a temporary command station in a nearby building, his personally leading the evacuation of that building during the collapse of the first tower, and his clear-headed advise and instructions to the residents of the city. There are a few sore points (the film actually shows documentary footage of a man jumping to his death and it tackily dissolves from a fireman's boots in the thick, ashy dust of the collapse to a woman's pumps walking in the snow) but overall there is powerful material here. One moving thread that weaves throughout the film shows Giuliani comforting his long-time assistant Beth Petrone (Maxim Roy) while they await word on her firefighter husband, Captain Terry Hatton. Moments like these help underscore where Giuliani got his strong, fatherly reputation.
One area where Rudy proudly delves into the depths is in the man's private life. Early scenes show the plucky young Assistant Attorney General wooing TV personality Donna Hanover (boringly played by Penelope Ann Miller) but their relationship is shown slowly deteriorating into the disaster that played out in the city tabloids. The movie also strongly insinuates that Giuliani had an affair with his press aide Christyne Lategano (Michelle Nolden), something that's been talked about for years but not really substantiated. This might be the most developed personal relationship in the film, with the power dynamic present in every scene: Influential man and his power-awed Gal Friday. Even Nolden's bizarre changing accent (Now she's Canadian! Now she's Brooklyn! Now she's British!) doesn't kill this solid subplot. Giuliani's eventual relationship with Judy Nathan (a major story in local media) is basically just a post-script to this film.
In a sad, but not surprising, move Rudy was not filmed in New York but rather Montreal. This move was probably due as much to the fact that the film is unauthorized (permits from the city are needed for any filming in New York) as to budgetary restrictions. Regardless, there's a sense of legitimacy missing from many outdoor sequences. Adding CG Twin Towers to the skyline doesn't help stand-in locations like a very fake looking fish market look any better. The film's numerous time-lapse shots of the city are effective at getting the look of the city incorporated into the film but they don't help sell the shooting locations.
Ultimately, Rudy is just too short to really cover the story. At barely an hour and a half key events are skipped or glossed over to make room for domestic arguments between Rudy and Donna. Many defining moments in Rudy's life are boiled down to their most basic elements, like Rudy deciding to go after the mob followed immediately by his celebrating victory, with no insight into the process. Director Robert Dornhelm's previous credits include the devastating miniseries version of Anne Frank which, allowed to spread out over three hours, reached incredible levels of emotional involvement and depth. There's nothing intrinsic to Rudy Giuliani's life to equal the story of Anne Frank, of course, but with a little more leeway Dornhelm could probably have gotten further inside the man. As it stands, Rudy is like a greatest hits package, good for anyone interested in New York politics and the man who ran them for much of the past decade, but ultimately anyone looking for more will have to do their own legwork, through Barrett's book or any of the dozens of other sources available.
Rudy will premiere on the USA Network Sunday, March 30 at 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM.
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