Brian De Palma's film version of THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES was savaged by the critics with a vitriol that still seems remarkable. Remarkable because it is one of De Palma's tamer movies, no doubt eviscerated for not living up to the same image critics held in their heads when they read Tom Wolfe's enormously popular novel three years earlier. The movie's nastiest pans came from journalists comparing it to the book--one called it a "fascinating calamity" and another, more frighteningly, commanded readers to "destroy this film."
Watered-down as it may be, Bonfire of the Vanities politically and artistically is a challenge -- a visceral wake-up call to the mind and the senses. To watch De Palma lampoon the self-indulgence of the '80s, as Wolfe did much more straightforwardly in his book, is to be forced to confront a long list of off-kilter images and incongruous tones -- embodied here by the innately good-natured Tom Hanks's performance as Sherman McCoy, a slimy, adulterous investment banker; Melanie Griffith's gleefully absurd vixen mistress Maria Ruskin; and, most important of all, the sudden and jarring shift from farce to straight-faced moral declaration that is Morgan Freeman's masterful courtroom speech.
"I don't do satire," De Palma reportedly said in an interview. And so it's true. De Palma prefers to wear his parody with a big, dumb grin--or with his fangs fully protracted. Tom Wolfe's novel was satire; the movie is broad comedy, playing up its characters' vices and follies to viciously cartoonish levels, rendering them more laughable than contemptible.
De Palma's characterizations may not have the subtle tongue-in-cheek wit of Tom Wolfe, but his version of the story is both more comic and angrier for it. His sinuous camerawork, (expertly captured by master cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond), suggests a fiery examination of New York's racial and economic head-butts -- if critics were searching for the film's muscle, this is where it is.
For all its polish, Bonfire of the Vanities can become stunningly hot-tempered, a quality most journalists are too quick to ignore. A cutting sorrowfulness underlies slapstick humor that can quickly turn violent.
De Palma doesn't do straight satire, and as such his coda puts everything prior into a clarifying moral focus while simultaneously challenging the way we watch movies: In an unjust world, law is our "feeble attempt" to make things right.
I had always avoided seeing this movie because I heard it was terrible. I watched it in 2016 and couldn't believe how relevant it is today, with the media always ginning up some controversy and stoking racial animus for political purposes. This is a movie that should be watched again in this Age of "Black Lives Matter," where various forces on the Left are forever looking to ignite a powder keg for one agenda or another.
Based on Tom Wolfe's quintessential 80s novel, this massive flop is one of the worst films of the 90s. Check out the book "The Devil's Candy," for the story of making the film.
A rare Hollywood satire about race relations in the USA ( in the 1980's ). A little uneven in places, but overall its pretty funny considering its subject matter.
There is no way this is the worst movie of the 90's- per the review above ( for one thing it IS a good movie )- Incidentally, the worst of the 90's would be among these: Troll 2, Bio Dome, Spice World and Battlefield Earth.
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