If the truth won’t set you free . . . then lie.
This movie, based on the best-seller of the same name by Tom Wolfe, is a notorious disaster and it absolutely lives down to that reputation. On its face, it has a lot of promise. It’s helmed by master filmmaker Brian De Palma and features an all-star cast. Tom Hanks as the Wall Street golden boy at the center of the story; Melanie Griffith as his vapid mistress; Kim Cattrall as his long-suffering wife; Morgan Freeman as a firebrand judge; Bruce Willis as a shallow journalist; Saul Rubinek as an ambitious lawyer; F. Murray Abraham (wisely uncredited) as a slimy DA; Donald Moffat as the affable father of the Hanks character; rounding out with small roles: Alan King (who is godawful), Rita Wilson, Kevin Dunn, Kirsten Dunst. But, boy, is it dreadful. Tonally, the movie’s just a mess. A lot of people are aiming for full on farce, particularly Kim Cattrall, who is, I think, the best, most entertaining performer in the movie as a throttle-breaking neurotic. Hanks is giving his usual naturalistic likable guy performance in the middle of all the farce and feels very out of place. Meanwhile, Freeman is attempting to bring a little gravitas to the table and that is not easy to do. The less said about Willis’ performance the better. He stumbles about utterly flabbergasted by his own presence in the film. Just like the audience, he has no idea how he got cast as an erudite, intellectual author of high literature. But, you know, he was coming right off of Die Hard 2 & Look Who’s Talking Too, so, you know . . . The film is either an epic moral tragedy or a highly-pitched farce, but don’t ask the screenwriter; he has no idea.
The film doesn’t want to be as dark as the book. Hanks is too likable in the role of the arrogant, self-centered McCoy so the movie flinches; no one wants to see bad things happen to Tom Hanks, so the movie blinks at the wrong moment and literally changes the book’s ending to one literally exactly opposed to it. But the whole point of the story is that McCoy is a guy who thinks he has his life in perfect order, but because he’s a bad person, his mistakes catch up with him and he finally has to face consequences. If there are no real consequences, and there really aren’t, then what’s the ******* point of the story? The film has no idea how to end the story if there isn’t, you know, a resolution, so it makes Morgan Freeman literally come out from behind the bench and deliver a speech about decency that is totally out of nowhere, totally unmotivated and another tonally nightmarish hairpin turn. The film’s farcical elements aren’t funny and the movie has just sloppily thrown itself out of the way of a dramatic resolution and so the time is clearly right for a lengthy diatribe about how we were all taught to be decent by our mothers and so we need to just all go home and be decent and everything will be fine. I mean, what the ****? Freeman has stated that he knew the movie was a disaster even while making it and I believe him. I believe I can even pinpoint the moment. It’s the moment they bring him this speech and tell him that they changed the ending, so they need him to make this brand new speech. As an actor, that is the moment you know that you are supremely ******.
There are a couple of decent things here. As I mentioned earlier, Cattrall just goes full-throttle into farce and she’s delightful. And there’s a scene where F. Murray Abraham’s venal DA discusses racial politics in front of a black assistant. There’s a bit in that scene where I laughed out loud. Best of all is one of De Palma’s patented tracking shots. It opens the film and follows Willis as his character arrives at a luxury hotel. It involves a limo, a golf court, a couple of elevators, a wardrobe change and a lot of chaos. Even if you’re, like me, kind of cynical about those “breathtaking” tracking shots people are always talking about, this one will probably knock you back on your heels; it certainly did me. But ultimately, this movie is absolutely terrible and a deserved flop. There is something real about the schadenfreude of the experience, watching all these great actors flounder with literally no idea what to do with this dreadful script and that makes the film more interesting as a weird curio than a lot of bad movies. But it’s certainly not worth a watch. It’s funny; it was supposed to be a movie about the mighty, powerful & talented brought low by overweening ambition and moral confusion. And it wasn’t; and so it was. 1 star.
tl;dr – talented cast/director flounder in a dreadfully inconsistent, morally confused, tonally nightmarish sloppy soup of a film; schadenfreude alone can justify a watch. 1 star.