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This is a brilliant, under-rated movie. It is based on the book The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
If we view in context of extramarital affairs this a rare movie in which the main hero consider his extrametrical relations to be his right, as a member of "Master of the universe" club. Melanie Griffith actually portrays an evil woman very impressively and in some ways better than, say, Glenn Close.
I think that one of the most startling things about this novel is that, for everyone who reads it, there is a different pivotal image, a separate moment in the book which forms an axis for the work. For me, it's Sherman McCoy's phone conversation with his estranged wife, in which he talks about the days when, as he went off to work, he would turn on the street under the window where she was watching, and give the black power sign. It meant, to this white son-of-a-lawyer, that he wasn't going to get sucked into Wall Street, that he was only using it; that it wouldn't change him.
Fast forward a dozen or so years, and Sherman is 38. He's one of New York's leading Bond salesman, a self-titled Master of the Universe who makes a million dollars a year (and that isn't enough), barely sees his wife, and is cheating with another man's gold-digging spouse
Sherman is not the only disgusting character we find as our story opens. His mistress, Maria, who laughs at her husband from the confines of her sublet rent-controlled love-nest. There's the alcoholic tabloid journalist, who is an expert at getting other people to pick up the tab. And there's a thinly veiled reference to the Rev. Al Sharpton, just to complete the picture. When the book opens, the only character with whom the reader can sympathize is Larry, a lawyer who chose to work in the Bronx D.A.'s office because he wants to "make a difference".
In a larger, social context, the movie honestly depicts the modern biased race-based American society, in which uneducated crowds are ready to devour an honest person, and punish him for a crime he didn't commit. The acting is great, Tom Hanks does an admirable job, as Sherman McCoy, the Wall Street whiz kid who suddenly decides to be a moral person and is caught up in the racial politics and journalistic mendacity of New York. Bruce Willis's narration as the drunken writer Peter Fallow is great fun, especially as we see him knowingly collaborating in a news story that is almost a complete lie. Melanie Griffith is good as the sluttish mistress Maria
However, it isn't acting which makes the movie great. The superb directing, creating realistic and horrible scenes of dirty political games and black (literally) PR, capture my attention. So, to sum up, a brilliant political satire. The movie could be viewed as a satire on the US way of life, if it wasn't so terrifying...
The script is excellent in places and neatly captures the irreverence and cynicism that this kind of satire needs. It is one of the best portrait of the neoliberal culture that I have ever seen. Without any the saccharin sentimentality and superficial razor thin concern most people display for the eternal greed and vanity that drives them. It's about lying while alleging being high and great. So how about that in a whole community (religious leaders, district attorney, journalists, rich people,.. with all the foundations they represent). It burns all of its damn hypocrisy, in big tableau of caricature. Sure this is the comedy that Oliver Stone didn't make ! Hell, now we have parents of murdered children bumping into each other to get their faces on "Good Morning America." How tragically pathetic. Great movie.
You probably should read the book too.
The Bonfire of the Vanities
mirasreviews HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE on February 14, 2006
A Saga of Racial, Ethnic & Economic Rivalries in Urban 1980s.
Regarded by some as the essential literary representation of 1980s America, "Bonfire of the Vanities" was written during the economic boom and urban crime waves of that decade and published almost as the stock market crashed in 1987. It follows the lives of a group of characters who express New York City's ethnic, socio-economic, and political rivalries through their involvement in a highly-publicized case of hit-and-run. A car belonging to Sherman McCoy of Park Avenue, one of Wall Street's most successful bond brokers, accidentally strikes a young black man in the Bronx. With the injured man in a coma, Harlem preacher, politician, and general rabble-rouser Rev. Reginald Bacon sees an opportunity to advance his agenda -by delivering the racially charged case to ambitious District Attorney Abe Weiss and to unscrupulous tabloid journalist Peter Fallow. Prosecutor Lawrence Kramer jumps at the opportunity to bring down a wealthy WASP in the name of equality. And streetwise Irish lawyer Tommy Killian may be McCoy's only ally in a city where truth and justice take a back seat to just about everything.
"Bonfire of the Vanities"' flaw is ironically the source of its strength. The book is over 600 pages long. It follows too many characters and spends a lot of time describing the world from their point of view. The book's insights rely on its many perspectives, but at the same time, the descriptions are cumbersome. Tom Wolfe generally does not cast his characters in sympathetic light. His willingness to call it how they see it draws the reader into the story out of an almost perverse curiosity. The blunt talk and peek inside the worlds of city politics, tabloid journalism, criminal law, and Park Avenue lifestyles keep us interested. The story is found in the self-serving hostilities and interdependencies of New York's many factions more than it is in the sequence of events. And it's all thoroughly plausible, sadly.
Edward Scott Haas on January 23, 2001
America's Twisted Glory
In *Bonfire of the Vanities*, pop journalist Wolfe takes a sneering satirical look (from a surprisingly European point of view) at American culture and all of its absurdities and obsessions. New York is treated as the microcosm of 80s America with all of its fads, rivalries, economic woes and class inequality mixing together uneasily and then exploding. Sherman McCoy, the supremely irritating central charater, is a fresh-faced adolescent of 38 years who just doesn't get the fact that the world is a harsh, dangerous place--that is until he becomes the fall guy in a politically and racially charged scandal. Peter Fallow (by far the best character in the book)is a delightfully cynical and misanthropic British journalist who observes the parade the do-gooder activists, slick political manipulators, confused cops, thuggish cops, skeletal society ladies, urban punks, garish architecture, trash culture and trendy clubs with an acid wit and always a few stiff drinks under his belt.
If they ever make a real movie out of this book (the existing one doesn't count) PLEASE get Jeremy Irons to play Fallow. Some people see this book as some kind of right-wing propaganda. It isn't. Wolfe, despite his own more or less conservative views, allows the story to tell itself without a lot of interpretation from above.
Each character is a complex individual with his or her own unique motivations and mixture of vice and virtue. We spend time inside the minds and private lives of a wide variety of people and are allowed to make our own judgements about who deserves what measure of praise or blame. If there is any prejudice in the book it is against people who simplify complex issues. Wolfe's world, like the real thing, is brimming with paradoxthoroughly plausible, sadly.
Jaspreet Grewal, from London, UK, 11 December 2003
Brilliant, under-rated movie
(NB - I have not read the book.) Unfairly chastised by the press on release, and too easy to tar as a weak link in De Palma's ouevre, BOTV is better than Wall Street, Working Girl et al. and is still very relevant.
This is an OTT opera where every character is a cynic trying to work an angle, and every action (in a complex story about contacts, smear campaigns, politics and pawns) has an obvious and (most of the time) greedy motivation. BOTV also confronts sex, racism and class clashes with a frankness that most Hollywood movies run a mile from - it is suprisingly frank in it's depiction of these (The exception being that the New York judge had to be, of course, black [Morgan Freeman]. This is something dramatists do to make some of their social opinions seem less controversial since they are being spouted by a man of colour in a white forum.)
On par with His Girl Friday and The Sweet Smell of Success, and possessing an oddball universe Preston Sturges would've been proud of creating, this film is all the more powerful when you actually live in a world kind of like this (and I meet these kinds of people all the time - this is REAL!).
PS - Half an hour was lopped off by the studio after disasterous preview screenings. This movie deserves a DVD director's cut release.
An excessive but funny American satire. De Palma tries to film his great masterpiece switching from Hitchcock to Kubrick. Perhaps, not wholly satisfactory but fascinating and one of the most interesting film
ITAU from London, United Kingdom, 11 October 1999
After giving us two excellent films - "The Untouchables" and "Casualties of War" director and auteur Brian De Palma tried to get the masters degree on major filmmaking with the very complex best-selling novel by Tom Wolfe. Faced to the challenge of making a great satire of nowadays America, De Palma does not find his own voice as he did in his two previous films, and goes back to the copy-and-paste path. This time it is not an imaginative and talented personal version of Hitchcock obsessions, but an interesting approach to Kubrick's style in "Dr Strangelove" and even "Lolita". After confessing that the director he admires in a most intimate way is Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma uses the witty Tom Wolfe novel as the story he needs to imitate one of his most admired masters.
The result is an excessive but funny satire. It is certainly underwritten, overacted and overdirected but, still, De Palma shows once again a great visual style and a wild sense of humour which makes us laugh several times.
Perhaps, De Palma should have remembered that such a witty and complex story has to be told seriously with the apparent simplicity and hidden complexity he reached in "Casualties of War", without trying to underline with the direction that every scene is supposed to be funny.
Those strange camera angles taken from Kubrick nuclear satire do not work here and the characters are too exaggerated -Jean Renoir said that each character has some reasons and here, if De Palma had tried harder not only to criticize but to understand them, it would have been a much more effective film- and being both a Kubrick and a De Palma fan, I think that Kubrick influence was not good at all here. In this satire, as in his Vietnam drama, such a talented director as De Palma could have given more importance to substance that to form, given that this was not one of his brilliant thrillers where form is essential, but an intelligent satire about people. In fact, in many moments of the film De Palma uses a not so mannered and much more effective style and shows a great talent in portraiting situations ironically, something which is not usual in films from the nineties.
Overall this work remains as one of the most aggressive portraits of America ever filmed. Perhaps this is why the film was a flop in the Box ffice -it was absurd to make it with such a expensive cast and budget, given that such an acid satire cannot be popular- and De Palma's career, which was on his best moment, did not recover completely even after the wonderful "Carlito's Way", one of his best films. If you study Film direction it is absolutely necessary to see it, because of its risks, mistakes and achievements.
In conclussion, one of those strange films which you will find fascinating both because of its values and its mistakes.Forget about the novel; the film is an excessive and wild satire which will make you both think and laugh. De Palma genius and talent are present in many scenes. Moments like the initial shot, Alan King's speech, Clifton James,Donald Moffat or Andre Gregory performances -even the Morgan Freeman final scene, which De Palma did not like and is really good, reminding me of Capra, something extremely difficult in such a cynical decade- are not easy to forget.
It is not often to find such a complex and interesting film. I strongly recommend it.
jonathon_naylor from Manitoba, Canada, 19 June 2006
If ever there was a film that didn't deserve all the bad press it received, this is it. "The Bonfire of the Vanities" is actually an absorbing, slick-paced and well-acted piece of cinema that works on several levels. Tom Hanks is great as Sherman McCoy, a Wall Street hot shot whose life unravels because of one wrong turn into the Bronx. While behind the wheel of McCoy's Mercedes, his mistress accidentally strikes an intimidating young black man who approached the financial wizard. Enter Bruce Willis as Peter Fallow, a reporter eager to regain his reputation who sees the incident as just what the doctor ordered.
"The Bonfire of the Vanities" is a fascinating look at how self interests trump decency, how public perception matters more than the truth, and how lies are sometimes necessary for the truth to surface. One of the reasons this film was so poorly received is that it isn't often laugh-out-loud funny. But "Bonfire" isn't really a comedy; it's a satire about contemporary society, and one that hits all too close to home.
Alex Marszalowicz from Middletown NJ, 6 July 2003
Deserves a better pitch and a better rating
The back cover for the DVD calls this movie "hilarious" and "the quintessential story of the go-for-it '80s." In truth, it is neither. The Bonfire of the Vanities is, however, funny in parts, poignant in parts, and entertaining throughout.
The protagonist is Sherman McCoy, a man whose one fatal flaw (an affair we know of from the beginning) leads to the downfall from his envious position as a "Master of the Universe." Tom Hanks gives an excellent performance and shows real emotion in bringing this highly plausible character to life. Unfortunately, his character is the only one with enough depth to be realistic.
Even Morgan Freeman's Judge White, representing a refreshing dose of intelligence and honesty in the film, is perhaps too good to be believed. All of the other characters are mere caricatures, appearing too greedy, too pretentious, too self-absorbed, or too flighty to be believed. Bruce Willis might have made himself an exception as well, but I feel he simply lacked enough screen time to flesh out the different faces he had to show.
Nevertheless the story is very well told. If the other characters appear less than convincing, accept them as colorful background for McCoy, who is the real focus anyway. There are numerous laughs, and the other characters represent elements that are definitely present in society - even if not to the extent shown here. Wolfe's story is entertaining enough to make this movie worth seeing. And it might even make you think twice about the names you see next time you open a newspaper.
7 / 10 stars.
MovieMusings from Toronto, 14 October 2001
Before I talk about the movie itself, I'd like to get ugly for a quick sec..
I am sick and tired of people whining that a movie isn't as good as a book. First of all, we all already know that 99% of the time a book is not equally rendered in film. How can it? The physiological experience of reading is totally different from that of taking in audio-video. Hello? A book often can't fit into a 90 minute movie anyway, and we all complain when a director tries to stretch our minute-rice attention span more than 2 hours, which would allow the space to capture more of the subtle nuances that we love in a book.
If you want to read the book, do us all a favour, don't watch a movie, go read the #@%$ book. Does anyone think that a painting could represent each facet of a poem? They are two separate and distinct mediums. Sheesh.
Now, book aside, this movie is trying to talk about an issue. And it does so quite fine. If you need the book to get the message, that's your business.
Each character was a caricature, a spoof, hyperbolized to help drive home the message that truth is often irrelevant to the socio-political motives behind people's actions. From the "assistant DA" looking for recognition to the "hymie racist" angling for the office of mayor to the "good reverend" looking for sympathy for his people (and a payday) to Fallow trying to save his career to McCoy's lawyer who has to patiently deal with his naive client who doesn't grasp that his life is insignificant to all those who somehow have generated a vested interest in his demise...
I got the message, it didn't take me the 6 hours or two days (or however long it would take me to make time to read the book), and I had some fun.
ahmed elshikh (email@example.com) from Egypt, 4 June 2010
The Truth Will Set You.. On Fire !
Save the terrible performance of (Melanie Griffith) and the too-idealistic-it's idiot speech of (Morgan Freeman) at the end, this is a truly wonderful satirical comedy.
I'm the only one I know who loves this movie. It's strange, rather enigmatic, why it's that hated?!! Lately I watched (Gene Siskel) and (Roger Ebert) reviewing it in old episode of their show (At The Movies), saying endless illogical and untrue things, I couldn't believe how nonsense their talk was !
It's about lying while alleging being high and great. So how about that in a whole community (religious leaders, district attorney, journalists, rich people,.. with all the foundations they represent). It burns all of its damn hypocrisy, in big tableau of caricature. Sure this is the comedy that Oliver Stone didn't make !
The script is smart; sneering at that decayed world by one accident which uncovers its many big ironies, while leading a tragic situation of an honest man in the middle of it, then a thrilling one to prove his innocence. It has a bitter sense of humor, enough to remember "If you're going to live in a whorehouse, there's only one thing you can do: be the best damn whore around.", "I'm leaving you! After the party... and now, if you will excuse me, we have guests.", and the monologue of the lead's father "I believe in the truth, so lie !", and using the narration of the journalist was great, now this is a truthful/lair character; that makes him the best expression of his reality, and a symbol of it too.
(Brian De Palma) entertained us with simple style and no freaky tricks, tightening the pace by clever angles and wicked zoom-ins. I still recall the moment when all the reporters attack Hanks' car in front of the police station while the rain is falling, holding their black umbrellas while the camera is shooting them from above to look like many bats blockade and swoop the poor man to suck his blood.
I love it. It's a classic for me, and a type of movies that Hollywood kind of lost interest in since years ago. Maybe it flopped because it faced the people with their ugly truth. I know that the bad reviews of it were totally dumb or liar themselves. However by fair viewing all of these blind opinions will burn !
Bottom line : (De Palma) made his share of bad movies, (The Bonfire of the Vanities) isn't one of them or even close.
Robert J. Maxwell (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Deming, New Mexico, USA, 13 February 2005
Notes From the Underground
The point of Wolfe's original novel -- indeed the point of the whole story -- is that things take place because of a carefully calculated sense of expediency. The goal is survival within a particular kind of life style. The novel is full of malice. The only relationship that rings emotionally true is that between Sherman and his daughter, Campbell, and that's only touched upon. That aside, everyone is out for what he can get in the way of publicity, power, money or self aggrandizement.
Wolfe was criticized for hitting every character and every social segment of New York City over the head. His response was a denial. After all, he lived in New York himself and belonged to a neighborhood improvement committee and other admirable organizations, exactly the qualifications one would want on his resume in order to deny that he disliked New Yorkers. (Wolfe has a PhD in American Studies from Yale and is no dummy.) Those supposed weaknesses are what made the novel memorable. Nobody was any good. And Sherman McCoy wound up broke, a professional protester for social justice. The movie throws all of that away and imposes a moral frame on the story that simply doesn't fit. Wolfe did his homework. The novel was rooted in reality. Every event was not only possible but thoroughly believable. Wolfe might have made a great cultural anthropologist -- he knows how to get inside a system and record its details.
Yes, any of us might have found ourselves, as Sherman and his mistress do, stuck in the South Bronx, threatened by a couple of black kids, and making a getaway after bumping into one of them. That scene is transferred neatly from print to celluloid.
But after that scene the movie seems not to trust its audience and at times become frantic in its attempt to spell out its message, however nebulous the message is.
Sherman might accidentally hit some kid and be arrested for it as he is in the novel, but he would not immediately upon his release from jail go back to his phenomenally expensive condo, take out a shotgun, and start shooting into the ceiling with it, as he does in the movee. In what's supposed to be a funny scene, ceiling plaster falls all over the party guests and they scurry away, shrieking. It simply would not have happened. The movie has left the novel's unspeakably detailed reality in the dust. Wolfe's sensibility, the work he put into capturing the real, has been lost. What we get instead is a noisy, fantastic, and silly scene that doesn't do anything except wake the audience up. Similar empty scenes follow, screaming out for Wolfe's verisimilitude.
The movie also fails because it thrusts a lot of sin and redemption into an entertaining story of moral nihilism. Here we see "Don Juan in Hell" at the opera. We get lectures on redemption from a poet with AIDs. We see a lot of guilt in Sherman. A black judge who preaches from the bench and gives one of those final speeches about how we all have to start behaving nicely again. A reporter who feels sorry for Sherman after turning him into a sacrificial lamb. And a happy ending in which Sherman gets off by breaking the law with an idiotic grin. The scene sits on the movie like a jester's cap on a circus elephant's head.
The movie not only makes points that are already trite and unoriginal, it overstates them, as if the audience were incapable of absorbing any subtleties.
It's not the acting or the direction that's poor. The film's not bad in those respects. And the photography is pretty good too, including two rather spectacular shots -- the gargoyles of the Chrysler building and the landing of the Concorde. It's the script that is thoroughly botched.
The first half of the movie, roughly, is okay in conception and execution. It keeps some of the little details from the novel. Sherman and Judy's dog is named Marshall. Who the hell would name a dog Marshall? It loses its focus almost completely in the second half and on the whole is barely worth watching.
Wolfe's cynical redneck right-wingism may be offensive to a lot of people, but he's got the cojones to lay his percepts out. Alas the writers and producers did not have the courage to pick them up and thus blew the chance to make a fascinating study of New Yorkers.
B24 from Arizona, 2 August 2003
A Different Take
As someone who has both read the novel and seen the film, I have a different take on why the film was such a flop. First, any comparisons between novel and film are purely superficial. They are two different animals.
The novel is probably intended as a satire, but it arrives as a cross between tragedy and polemic instead. Any comedic elements such as those which later formed the stylistic basis of the film version are merely incidental to the author's uniformly cynical thrust. And lest the omnipresent white suit of the author fool you into thinking this is another Mark Twain, think again. A more apt literary precedent would be the spectre of Ambrose Bierce in a top hat and tails. Tom Wolfe is equal parts clown and hack, more celebrity than author, always looking for new grist for his self-absorbed mill.
It is therefore no wonder that the excellent production skills and direction lavished on the making of the film were doomed from the start. Unlike true satire, which translates very well into film, polemics are grounded not in universally accessible observations on some form or other of human behavior, but in a single-minded attack on specific people -- whether real or fictional straw men -- who have somehow earned the wrath of the writer. Any effort to create a successful filmed story or narrative from such a beginning must have a clean start, free of the writer's influence or interference.
Having said that, I too find fault with the casting. It is not merely that incompetents like Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith fail to measure up, but that real talents like Tom Hanks, F. Murray Abraham, and Morgan Freeman are either totally wasted or given roles that are mere caricatures.
There is enough topical material here for a truly great film satire, but it fails to come even close.
SnoopyStyle, 15 March 2016
Tom Hanks wrong and other things too
Sherman McCoy (Tom Hanks) is a big time Wall Street trader and considers himself one of the Masters of the Universe. His wife Judy (Kim Cattrall) is angry with his cheating. He goes to pick up his mistress Maria Ruskin (Melanie Griffith) from JFK airport. They get lost in the Bronx. They get frightened by two black men and Maria drives over one of them. Drunken reporter Peter Fallow (Bruce Willis) writes up the hit-and-run. D.A. Abe Weiss (F. Murray Abraham) is facing re-election and needs a white man to convict. Judge Leonard White (Morgan Freeman) sees through it all. Jed Kramer (Saul Rubinek) is the assistant D.A. Reverend Bacon (John Hancock) is agitating.
Tom Hanks is wrong. He's a boy scout. He's the every man. He's no Wall Street man. He's not Charlie Sheen and he's definitely not Michael Douglas. The movie works too hard to make him the good guy and it doesn't feel right. Brian De Palma does a lot of interesting camera moves. The start is an impressive tracking shot. There are the umbrellas. The sets and locations look terrific but it also feels fake. This should be grittier, darker and harder. Every character is a caricature. Lastly, the two black guys need to be more definitive. They should be bringing out their guns to rob them or be two younger kids looking to help them. It would make whatever the movie is trying to do that much sharper. With the central character being so wrong, it's hard to make this movie right.
Mr-Fusion from United States, 6 October 2015
Read the book instead. No, the other one.
I've never read the source novel for "Bonfire of the Vanities", so I can't view the film version in an adaptation context. But I can look at this as a movie that features a laundry list of capable actors and a skilled director and ask, "What the hell is this?" All this talent wasted on something so meandering, on-the-nose and comically unfunny? Sherman McCoy is supposed to be an unlikable character, and they go out and cast Tom Hanks? And Melanie Griffith over Uma Thurman? Honestly, this thing was doomed from the first step.
On the plus side, Morgan Freeman steals the entire thing (although his percentage of screen time is woefully lacking). And F. Murray Abraham does have the one funny line. That's right, one. The satirical wit herein isn't rapier, but more plastic spoon, and it just makes the whole movie a grind. Some of the worst pacing I've seen in a while.
If you do decide to suffer through this wretchedness, immediately go out and read Julie Salamon's "The Devil's Candy", which is one of the most scintillating behind-the-scenes books out there.
tomgillespie2002 from United Kingdom, 13 April 2015
Fails to grasp the subtle satire of Tom Wolfe's novel
Tom Wolfe's sprawling novel about the aftershocks of a hit-and-run in 1980's New York set out to capture the corruption and self- promotion that seemed to dominate the decade, with every power player in the city, and every hanger-on trying to achieve personal triumph, latching on to the media and cultural frenzy to benefit their own personal agenda. It's a remarkable novel; bleakly hilarious but meticulously detailed. A movie adaptation was always going to be dangerous territory, and Brian De Palma's resulting film, that flopped both critically and commercially, is a confused mess. The complete failure of the film may be somewhat cruel and not wholly deserved, but De Palma goes for all-out comedy, failing to grasp Wolfe's subtle satire completely.
Tom Hanks plays self-styled 'master of the universe' Sherman McCoy, a Wall Street broker who enjoys every material comfort that life can offer, living in his huge apartment with his ditsy wife Judy (Kim Cattrall). During an eventful night with his mistress Maria Ruskin (Melanie Griffith), they take a wrong turn while heading back to her apartment and end up in South Bronx. Sherman gets out of the car to clear the road when he is approach by two black youths, and a misunderstanding leads to Ruskin accidentally running one of them over. They flee the scene, but once the story of a rich white man almost killing a poor black kid breaks, the likes of Reverend Bacon (John Hancock), a Harlem religious and political leader, Jewish district attorney Abe Weiss (F. Murray Abraham) and hard-drinking journalist Peter Fallow (Bruce Willis) rear their heads to twist the ongoing s**t-storm to their own benefit.
Despite some nice tracking shots and sets that really do capture the tacky glamour of the 80's, the movie's biggest downfall is the casting. The two leads, Hanks and Willis, are woefully miscast. McCoy is a loathsome character, a WASP-ish high-roller in an increasingly capitalist country, but Hanks is one of the most likable actors around. He looks visibly uncomfortable in a thinly- written role, and only takes control of his character in a scene in which he clears his apartment by unloading a shotgun played mainly for laughs, which at this stage of his career was Hanks's shtick.
Fallow in the novel is a manipulative con-man, twisting the unravelling story through his newspaper in order to keep his job and make a nice paycheck along the way. But De Palma only seems to have picked up on his heavy drinking, meaning that Willis swings a bottle around and narrates the story, playing the role of spoon-feeder without playing an active role in story or convincing as someone who could get to his position.
But then again, De Palma's movie doesn't exist in the real world. Arguably, the ensemble of characters in Wolfe's novel were caricatures, but they were well-rounded characters, and being inside their heads meant that we could understand their motives, something the movie entirely ignores. So we get the likes of Bacon, Weiss, lawyer Tom Killian (Kevin Dunn) and Assistant District Attorney Kramer (Saul Rubinek), all key players in the novel, reduced to scowling or bumbling onlookers, while McCoy squirms for our amusement and Fallow tells us what we're supposed to be thinking.
Occasionally its an all-out pantomime, which would be forgivable it was funny or insightful. Yet when Wolfe calls for pantomime at the climax, the movie delivers a ridiculous speech spoken by Judge White (Morgan Freeman), informing us that decency is what your grandmother taught you.
Annie Van Auken TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon June 21, 2015'What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses...' Ah well. There are compensations." (last lines)
In watching Brian De Palma's THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (1990) it occurred to me that one of the main elements of this story is more relevant today than it was a quarter century ago. In this partial class/race warfare tale, Tom Hanks is passenger in his Mercedes and his mistress, Melanie Griffith severely injures a black youth who has tried to rob Hanks while the two were lost in the South Bronx. Recklessly driving the Mercedes, Griffith runs the young man down, and as he's hospitalized in a state of coma, the NYPD find Hanks, who has been hiding in terror at his Park Ave. apartment.
Bruce Willis, an alcoholic newspaper reporter near the end of his career, writes an inciteful story about Hanks and helps to turn this tragedy into a near race riot. And that is what is all too familiar in recent years: the mindless crowds of protesters, along with looters who take advantage of the moment by burning and stealing everything not nailed down. A bleeding heart media doesn't help matters any. It's all happened far too much.
Also here is an anti-white, money-grubbing attention-whore reverend, whose well-chosen words stir the mob to near-violence. Sounds somewhat like Ferguson, Baltimore and other such unfortunate places in the recent news.
This momentous issue aside, at the time of its release "Bonfire" totally fizzled out. A $47 million budget realized only $15 million in box office sales. In hindsight probably a well-deserved rejection, but in lieu of recent events, the film shows much prescience.
It's hard to watch this still worthy picture without letting the above considerations affect one's perceptions. But perhaps that's a good thing.
Paranthetical number preceding title is a 1 to 10 IMDb viewer poll rating.
(5.4) The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) - Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, Kim Cattrall, Saul Rubinek, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Dunn, Clifton James, Donald Moffatt, Alan King, Richard Libertini, Rita Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Malachy McCourt, Richard Belzer, George Plimpton (uncrediteds: F. Murray Abraham, Geraldo Rivera, Brian De Palma)
A Customer on March 30, 2004
one of the most under-rated films of all time
Next to Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate, David Lynch's Dune, and Francis Ford Coppola's One From the Heart, Brian De Palma's Bonfire of the Vanities is a savagely under-rated film.
De Palma once again demonstrates he is a master of wit. The film was initially criticized, or rather misinterpreted, for being somehow 'lightweight.' If anything, the film is over-the-top! De Palma's choice for lavish sets and stunning cinematography (by vilmos zsigmond) in wall street upper class New York perfectly match the subject matter and commentary on the 1980s greed infested 'me' decade and Reagan/Bush era, adapted from Thomas Wolfe's popular novel.
Critics howled that the film downplayed Wolfe's themes...people act like Tom Wolfe, albeit a talented writer, is somehow as deep as James Joyce or something. The message of the book is pretty darn simple people! and it translates very obviously, perhaps even too obviously, in the film. Not to mention the fact that film is a totally different medium than literature, and one should not expect a film to be exactly like the book. as for the miscasting criticism, it is true Hanks doesnt exactly perfectly fit the role of McCoy, but he doesnt take away from the movie. The supporting cast, however, is better than him. Griffith is fantastic, and Willis gives a performance that practically carries the movie.
I think this film was very ambitious and ahead of its time, and will in the future eventually be recognized as a very good film.
David R. Allen on November 3, 2012
"Bonfire Of The Vanities" (1990) is a brilliant movie well directed with great acting and killer set decoration and great music!
"Bonfire Of The Vanities" (1990) is a brilliant movie well directed with great acting and killer set decoration...and great music, too!
Three Best Actor Academy Award winners have major roles in the movie (F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hanks, and Morgan Freeman) and all three give breathtaking actor performances.....anyone who cares for fine movie actor work cannot afford to miss this great movie.
The direction by Brian DiPalma is brilliant, starting with the camera panorama sweeping across nighttime Manhattan from the top of the Chrysler Building with closeups of it's gargoyles, and ending with great elegant tuxedo and gowns for the ladies crowd scene of astonishing elegance and pomp made even greater by the background music (the music in this film is one of it's many great assets).
DiPalma's used of "fish eye" lenses for closeups of three of the movie's lovable villains (the best movies always have lovable villains, at least the best comedies do) in the final courtroom scene is inspired.....Brian DiPalma is one of the great directors of the 20th century in USA major movies.
The set decoration is especially notable.
The late Lillian Gish (1893 - 1993, an iconic movie star who lived to her 100th year, was the star of D. W Griffiths's "Birth Of A Nation" 1915 classic and later, at age 94, the star of "The Whales Of August" 1987 along with Bette Davis) opined during an interview seen in the documentary she was part of about the history of USA silent era movies (titled "Hollywood: The Silent Era" 1980 written and directed by Kevin Brownlow) that:
"The movies of the silent era during the 1920's 'age of motion picture palaces on Broadway NYC and elsewhere' taught people good manners, elegance and good taste....those movies did a world of good, socially."
People who want to see what good taste looks like, and how well mannered people trained and disciplined in good etiquette behave under pressure should see "Bonfire Of The Vanities" (1990) again and again and again.
The set decorations tell the "good taste" story in wonderful (and expensive) detail, and the script showing well educated, well mannered people speaking up and speaking out tells the "good taste" story verbally.
The irony is that this brilliant movie was widely accounted a failure by many associated with it.
Academy Award Winner actor F. Murray Abraham gives a brilliant performance worth seeing over and over again....certainly one of his best ever in any movie he ever appeared in. Yet he requested his name be removed from the credits list released for the movie, and his name does not appear either in the on-screen credits before and after the story, nor does it even appear on the [...] actor credits list part of the "Bonfire Of The Vanities" (1990) page offered by that important and justifiably respected website devoted to the movies.
A book was written about the making of "Bonfire Of The Vanities" and the overall conclusion of the book is that the movie was a failure.
The book referred to was titled "The Devil's Candy: The Anatomy Of A Hollywood Fiasco" (1991) written by Julie Salamon.
This movie was no fiasco.
It was and is one of the greatest big budget Hollywood movies ever made, and deserves honor and congratulations it didn't get at the level it deserved.
"Bonfire Of Vanities" (1990) is an example of a latter day Hollywood major studio movie which succeeds in all ways, except for the way it was sold, and for the unjustified defamation it got from people close to it.
Some wonderful movies deserving of the label "classic" just don't get no respect. It happened to "Citizen Kane" (1941) and it happened to "Bonfire Of The Vanities" (1990).
See both, own both, treasure both. You won't be sorry.
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