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No. 2, January 1999
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Copyright 1999  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.
The Bonfire Of The Vanities
A Brian De Palma movie starring
Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith
based on the novel by Tom Wolfe
 
Born in 1940, American director Brian De Palma is a solid worker without brilliance. His movies The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible are entertaining but not profound. His film (1990) based on Tom Wolfe's bestseller The Bonfire Of The Vanities is no exception. Like the novel, the film's main characters have an artificial touch, as if they had been designed on a drawing board. Brian De Palma just lacks the bit of sensitivity that would give full credibility to his stars who act like they are performing on a stage play.
 
Peter Fallow (Bruce Willis) is a journalist and writer who tells us the story of a man who had won the world but lost his soul. The man, Sherman McCoy (Tom Hanks), forces his dog to go out in the rain because he wants to call his mistress. By accident, he dials his own number and ends up with his wife on the phone. Although he tries to hide his identity and afterwards denies everything, his wife knows that he had been calling. She is a woman so obsessed with her beauty that even she refuses to cry or get angry - in order to prevent the formation of unnecessary wrinkles.
 
Sherman McCoy is a master of the universe. He just made a $600 million deal on Wallstreet. His commission: $1.6 million. That is a great height to fall from. Together with his lover (Melanie Griffith), the wife of a financier, McCoy misses the Manhattan-exit on the freeway and ends up in the Bronx. Her reaction this is when she realizes that they have ended up 'in a goddam warzone' with a lot of African American: 'Oh my god ... natives!' Before they find a way back to the freeway, McCoy has to move a tire that blocks a street. As he tries to roll it away, to African Americans pass by and tension rises. In panic, his mistress hits one of the black men with Sherman's-car. McCoy and his mistress manage to escape, absconding from the scene of accident.
 
A white district attorney has the ambition to become mayor of N.Y.C. He needs the support of the black community. Therefore, nothing is better for him than to put a rich white guy who is responsible for severely hurting an African American in jail. Nobody understands that better than a black reverend (played by John Hancock) who explains to the attorney why he needs black friends: this is "an investment in steam control", "on judgement day, I'm your safety valve" 
[according to our reader Glenni, it is safety valve and not safety belt; correction January 7, 2002].
 
At the same time, the journalist Peter Fallow still does not know Sherman McCoy. But McCoy will become the solution to his problems. He has trouble with his boss and needs a good story otherwise he risks ending up in a local newspaper. The alternative: write a novel (an autobiographic element by Tom Wolfe?). Fallow gets the information about Sherman's absconding from the scene of the accident from a lawyer working for his boss and the district attorney seeking the mayor's office. Meanwhile, the Golden Boy Sherman McCoy is reading the headline about the African American hit by his car lying in a coma as he gets the information that his $600 million deal is in danger...
 
The Bonfire Of The Vanities is a funny and crystal-clear comedy. In fact, a touch too clear and simple.

Get The Bonfire Of The Vanities on DVD from Amazon.com
 

Get the novel The Bonfire Of The Vanities by Tom Wolfe from Amazon.com
 

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 2, January 1999
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  All Previous Articles
Links  For Advertisers  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 1999  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.