Friday, November 23, 2007

The Usual Suspects

In honor of Thanksgiving, the Moviefone website lists the "Top 25 Turkeys: Biggest Box Office Bombs" ever.

It's mostly the same predictable names you've seen on these lists before. Fine, expected. But I don't agree with some of the commentary.

For instance, here's what they say about Bonfire Of The Vanities:
Tom Wolfe's scathing novel about the excesses of the 1980s could have been a brilliant, era-defining movie, particularly with Brian De Palma at the helm. But nice-guy Tom Hanks was all wrong to play Sherman McCoy, the yuppie "Master of the Universe" brought low by a fatal car accident; and with the story rewritten to make McCoy more likable, Wolfe's satire lost its teeth -- and 'Bonfire' went down in flames.
First, the novel is a good start, but it has serious problems. It gives a panoramic view of New York in the 80s, and the film, if it doesn't want to be a miniseries, simply won't have the time to give all the characters justice. Also, the book has no third act.

Second, Brian De Palma is the wrong director. He's great at flash, action, suspense and imaginative visuals and camera movement. What he's not great at--as we can see from the start to the end of his career--is politics.

Third, Tom Hanks was a fine choice for the role. Some suggested William Hurt, who might have been okay, but Hanks was the right age and look and had the talent to pull this off. What he needed was a decent script. As far as making the character likable, it makes sense if he's going to anchor the film--Sherman McCoy as written is a cipher, and you've got to do something with him.

The real problem was the rest of the cast. Sherman is at the center, and everyone else is secondary, spinning around in his orbit. Thus, casting major stars like Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith in these roles throws the story out of whack. What was a tale of all the vultures feeding off Sherman McCoy becomes a story of one man falling while another rises. (And the Willis character would have been better as an ex-pat Brit.)

Worst of all was the casting of Morgan Freeman. (That he had unbearable lines only sealed the deal--they actually thought they could make his character carry the moral weight of the film by having him lecture everyone on decency.) He took the role of what in the novel was a white, Jewish, old-guard judge in the Bronx, who tries to uphold the law and is destroyed in a new, racial era of politics. To give this part to an African-American, no matter how talented, makes it meaningless and shows that De Palma (or whoever was in charge of casting) didn't get the book, or was too scared to do it justice.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems like DePalma may have a second entry on the list after this year's "Redacted," which is doing terribly.

9:34 AM, November 26, 2007  

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