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I watched James Woods play Rudy Giuliani in a 2003 TV biopic, made before both became national embarrassments

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"I'm just not much of a cuddler," said the actor James Woods, playing the titular character in the 2003 TV biopic "Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story."

This "cuddler" clip from the film went viral on Twitter this week, and for good reason. It depicts Giuliani courting his future second ex-wife, Donna Hanover (played by Penelope Ann Miller), on a moonlit walk on the beach with an obviously green-screened "ocean" in the background.

Dated production values aside, the clip is jarring because it harks back to a time — which may be hard to believe for anyone under 30 — when both Woods and Giuliani were not the national embarrassments they are today.

I watched "Rudy" on Amazon Prime, fully expecting the rest of the movie to be as laughably bad as the beach-stroll scene. Shockingly, for a 17-year-old made-for-basic-cable biopic, it's not terrible.

Capsule 'Rudy' review: Kind of OK!

I'm as surprised as anyone, but "Rudy" is a kind-of-OK TV movie.

The scenes depicting Giuliani's actions on the morning of 9/11 — when he scurried from building to building trying to survive the collapsing towers and maintain a functioning government — have an effective docudrama feel to them, not unlike the Oscar-nominated 2007 film "United 93."

And when Woods (as Giuliani) is angrily barking at his staffers, psychologically abusing his wife, and riling up hundreds of cops with an incendiary "tough on crime" speech — the actor truly captures his subject.

Also to the filmmakers' credit, "Rudy" is no hagiography. The script is based on the book "Rudy!" by the longtime Village Voice investigative reporter Wayne Barrett— who spent a large portion of his career aggressively chronicling and skewering both Giuliani and Donald Trump.

Giuliani's naked ambition, racial insensitivity, wanton cruelty, and heavy drinking are all plainly depicted. The true-to-life scene in which Giuliani tells the press he's separating from Hanover — before he even told his wife— is both rage- and squirm-inducing.

While it's tough to be shocked by much anymore, I was shocked that the howl-inducing beach-stroll clip from "Rudy" was not indicative of the movie as a whole, which for its time and milieu was pretty good.

AP Rudy Giuliani

The respected character actor and 'America's Mayor'

At the time "Rudy" aired on USA Network, Woods had been a respected character actor for the better part of three decades, working with esteemed directors like Sergio Leone, Oliver Stone, and Martin Scorsese. He appeared in a classic early "Simpsons" episode, lampooning his over-the-top intense screen presence. He was a two-time Oscar nominee and an Emmy-winner. He even got Emmy nods for both "Rudy" and for playing the odious Trump mentor Roy Cohn in the 1992 HBO movie "Citizen Cohn."

Concurrently, Giuliani in 2003 was less than two years removed from being Time magazine's Person of the Year, was broadly respected for his leadership on 9/11 and its immediate aftermath, and was already touted among the GOP front-runners for the 2008 presidential nomination.

Flash forward 17 years later, and Woods is a prototypical angry-boomer social-media troll. Over the past decade, the actor has become better known for his hard-right pro-Trump rants, conspiracy theories, and baseless accusations like calling Democrats "virulent anti-Semites" than for his acting.

Woods has been suspended by Twitter multiple times, to which he once responded: "If you want to kill my free speech, man up and slit my throat with a knife." As free-speech tourists will do, however, Woods in 2015 sued a random Twitter user who called him a "cocaine addict."

Over that same period, the erstwhile "America's Mayor" Giuliani launched a brief and disastrous run for president, got divorced for a third time (with his ex alleging he was serially unfaithful and drinking heavily), and has become better known for unhinged cable-TV appearances than for his calm, empathetic demeanor as America's mourner-in-chief in 2001.

For good measure, Giuliani also hatched the Ukrainian shakedown scheme that got Trump impeached, and he has since moved on to the "national embarrassment" stage of his distinguished career, pursuing baseless voter-fraud conspiracy theories and undermining democracy to the bitter end.

Woods and Giuliani have destroyed whatever positive reputations they had, but of all the things they have to be embarrassed about, "Rudy" is not one of them.

SEE ALSO: If you must talk politics with family at Thanksgiving, here are a few ways you can (and a few ways you shouldn't)

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