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Charting the fall and rise of 'Rudy'

TELEVISION & RADIO | REVIEW

March 29, 2003|Howard Rosenberg | Times Staff Writer

Although George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani are from different parts of the country and opposite sides of the track, they have in common more than Republican Party politics.

Both were lifted to stratospheric heights by their responses to the challenge of Sept. 11, history placing them in the right calamity at the right time.

These are different times. Bush went on to a presidency shaped so far by a crusade against terror and polarizing invasion of Iraq to smash the regime of Saddam Hussein. And after guiding New Yorkers through post-Sept. 11 like Moses leading Jews through the desert, once-reviled, then-beloved Giuliani cashed in his chips for big bucks, taking bow after bow during an extended victory lap that landed him a reported $100,000 a speech. God didn't get this much praise for parting the Red Sea.

Check back in a few years for a full biography of Bush. Giuliani's arrives Sunday when James Woods, sporting the former New York mayor's hair-combed-over-bald-spot look, plays him persuasively as part heavy, part hero in "Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story," a worthy USA Network movie based on a book by Wayne Barrett. Although less than defining, it's a memorable account thanks largely to Woods' trademark seething intensity, whether Giuliani is battling those around him or when snapping into action on Sept. 11 and becoming the city's shoulder to lean on.

Just where dramatic license intercedes here, and to what extent, is hard to say. Yet there's no sugarcoating in Robert Dornhelm's direction or Stanley Weiser's script. Their story opens just before the epic jolt of the twin towers terrorism, then bounces back and forth between an earlier Giuliani and 2001, interwoven with actual footage of the disaster.

Giuliani is as complex, conflicted and volatile here as he appears in real life. He's ruthless, engaging in a nasty feud as mayor with Bill Bratton, who was New York police commissioner before heading west to take over L.A.'s Police Department. And he's scrupulous, refusing to bend his personal beliefs to political expediency. He's charming and he's hot under the collar, not mincing words about demagogic Rev. Al Sharpton: "That self-serving, preening, triple-talking egomaniac." He's stormy, tactless and coarse while suffering from what one close associate calls a "kindness deficit" in his unsuccessful first campaign for New York mayor.

He gets famous there as a crime-busting, Mafia-chasing federal prosecutor whose political prospects grow as his marriage to Donna Hanover (Penelope Ann Miller) atrophies. Meanwhile, he gets that look in his eye when near his communications director Cristyne Lategano (Michelle Nolden).

Few major politicians have had messier private lives -- nor had them made as public -- as Giuliani. Much of that disorder surfaces here, notably his headline-making war with Hanover. That and other issues sent his popularity as mayor diving before he ran for U.S. Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton, a campaign he abandoned after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

You love him here, and you hate him, Giuliani the heavy being no one to adore. It's the hero, though, who shows up Sept. 11.

*

`Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story'

Where: USA Network

When: Sunday, 8 p.m.

Rating: The network has rated it TV-14L (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14, with an advisory for coarse language).

Rudolph Giuliani ...James Woods

Donna Hanover...Penelope Anne Miller

Cristyne Lategano...Michelle Nolden

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