Ragtime | Chicago Reader

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Milos Forman has chosen to emphasize the Coalhouse Walker subplot in his 1981 adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's novel, which has the unfortunate effect of pushing the center of Doctorow's fiction—the middle-class family of New Rochelle—off to one side, where it fails to ground both theme and structure. What's left is a curiously disconnected illustration of American racism, which nevertheless fails to realize the power and irony inherent in its pop-Marxist analysis. Forman destroys the climax, when capital decisively emerges over race as the true power in American culture, by turning it into a cheap play for audience gratification. If there is a true villain in the piece, it's James Cagney's police inspector, but you'd never know it from Cagney's winning performance or Forman's fawning direction. With Mary Steenburgen, Brad Dourif, James Olson, Howard E. Rollins Jr., and Moses Gunn.

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