- Brian De Palma’s film is adapted from the much ballyhooed novel by Tom Wolfe (taking that marvelous name from Wolfe’s book of course). It tracks the contrasting trajectories of Wall Street moneyman Sherman McCoy (Tom Hanks) and newspaper writer Peter Fallow (Bruce Willis).
- The film is famous (or infamous) for being remembered as one of the great turkeys of all-time—but well that may be true with the box office (or even some of the expectations when you combine the talent in the cast with the greatness of the Wolfe novel)- it is surely a work of cinema worthy of praise and study.
- It is shot by director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond (McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, Blow Out, Heaven’s Gate) and he and De Palma (and Steadicam operator Larry McConkey- who also worked on Goodfellas) craft one of the most impressive oner long take shots this side of the Copacabana shot from the 1990s. In this shot, which starts the film, the limo pulls up and a drunk Peter Fallow arrives (Willis’ character). He rides a trolley, he walks through the kitchen (another comparison to the Copa), he even takes an elevator as he stumbles and paws over a young woman and some expensive salmon.
There is complex choreography and camera talent on display as a slew of extras weave in and out and Fallow introduces himself via voiceover- “What does it profit a man?”…-powerful.
- The film then flashes back one year prior to this display of drunken ego by Fallow- it starts with “master of the universe” Sherman McCoy whose life seems to be going along perfectly (or so it seems) until he takes a literal wrong turn.
- Great WASP name for his daughter- “Campbell”- haha. It looks like this is the archiveable start for a young (eight years old in 1990) Kirsten Dunst in her true debut.
- Dave Grusin does the score- a few years before his most famous work in The Firm (1993).
- The cast is legendary: Willis is coming off Die Hard (1988), Melanie Griffith off of Working Girl (1988), Hanks from Big (1988) and Morgan Freeman with his breakout year just the year prior (both Driving Miss Daisy and Glory are 1989).
Masterful overhead shot (there is one painterly overhead at least in every De Palma film it seems) as McCoy is talking to London at the 14-minute mark.
- A Jaws-like (though I am sure De Palma, a Hitchcock acolyte, would prefer Vertigo) dolly zoom on Hanks’ character as he panics when getting approached in the Bronx.
- A strong low angle introduction of the Reverend Bacon (John Hancock) and choir at the 31-minute mark—the angle and effect—unsubtle, satirical.
- There are hints of Lumet’s Network– a damning look at society—the whole system is a shamble, but all parties are guilty- there is no real barometer.
- De Palma’s traits: a split screen of Geraldo at the 51-minute mark.
- Low-angle blocking—De Palma infuses the film with cinematic creativity throughout
At the 59-minute mark- the staff of the district attorney—F. Murray Abraham (back with De Palma after Scarface in 1983)- and two cops- just an awesome composition of the five figures.
- Andre Gregory plays Aubrey Buffing. De Palma captures him a split diopter. He is foreground right with Melanie Griffith (playing Maria Ruskin) in the background left.
- Tom Hanks is undeniably miscast. Sherman is not an easy character to play—but still- not an excuse. He just does not carry the weight required here and it hurts the film.
- Critics may have come in with certain expectations- like subtlety- and subtlety is just not what De Palma does. He treats this as a carnival, absurdism—“sideshow” is in the text. McCoy is wielding a shotgun at people, big noises—a sort of Fear and Loathing gonzo circus sign of our times critique- the “vast and dark wasteland”. The scenes with Morgan Freeman (playing Judge White) are just some that could be cut. His sermon (which is the penultimate shot) needs to be scrapped for sure.
- Recommend but not in the top 10 of 1990
Willis is good here.