Home News Megalopolis review – Coppola’s passion project is megabloated and megaboring | Film

Megalopolis review – Coppola’s passion project is megabloated and megaboring | Film

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Megalopolis review – Coppola’s passion project is megabloated and megaboring | Film

Everyone who loves cinema owes Francis Ford Coppola a very great deal … including honesty. His ambitious and earnestly intended new film, resoundingly dedicated to his late wife Eleanor, has some flashes of humour and verve. Jon Voight’s scene with his bow-and-arrow shoots a witty dart. The film’s heavily furnished art deco theatricality sometimes creates an interestingly self-aware spectacle, like an old-fashioned modern dress production of Shakespeare. And certainly a Coppola failure is a whole lot more interesting than the functional successes of lesser directors – the middleweights who aim low and just about hit the target’s bottom rim.

But for me this is a passion project without passion: a bloated, boring and bafflingly shallow film, full of high-school-valedictorian verities about humanity’s future. It’s simultaneously hyperactive and lifeless, lumbered with some terrible acting and uninteresting, inexpensive-looking VFX work which achieves neither the texture of analogue reality nor a fully radical, digital reinvention of existence. Yet this sci-fi conspiracy drama-thriller, avowedly inspired by the Catiline plotters of ancient Rome, does ask a valid question. The US empire, like the Roman empire, like any empire, can’t last for ever. Has America’s decline-and-fall moment arrived?

We are in a sort of retro-futurist New York, very similar to the present, with screeching news stories announced on tickertape-video billboards on buildings. But the internet appears to have evolved away from being prominent and social media is evidently a thing of the past.

The city’s most famous resident is visionary Nobel prize-winning architect and scientist Cesar Catilina, played by a very self-conscious Adam Driver, getting drunk at social events and tormented by the death of his wife in a car accident for which he only just escaped blame. He has supposedly invented a new building material, miraculously strong and malleable, called Megalon, and this discovery appears to have given him secret powers to control time and space.

The federal government has given him permission to demolish whole swathes of the city for his utopian building project: Megalopolis. Meanwhile, city mayor Cicero (Giancarlo Esposito) is furious at this arrogant man’s attitude, and he demands real answers to what he sees as humanity’s actual needs: a living wage, sanitation, roads, schools, hospitals, not this pie-in-the-sky megalo nonsense.

Cicero’s world is shaken when his daughter Julia (Nathalie Emmanuel) falls in love with Catilina, creating a Montague-Capulet clash between old and new visions of humankind’s future. And sinister Trumpian banker Hamilton Crassus III (Voight) is conducting an affair with sleazy, duplicitous TV news presenter Wow Platinum (Aubrey Plaza); Crassus’s creepy grandson Clodio Pulcher (Shia LaBeouf) has corrupt ambitious of his own.

There are moments when Coppola appears to be channelling Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, and its bland, doughy rhetoric about humanity’s potential seems to come from the New Deal era, or even earlier. I found myself thinking of Chaplin’s final speech in The Great Dictator. But the disco-dancing last days of decadent Rome simply feel dated.

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There’s a very strong scene at the beginning in which an agonised Catilina clambers out of a window at the top of the Chrysler building and teeters over the edge. The artificiality of the skyline works against suspense, perhaps, but it’s a bold image. Yet the scene develops, like the whole movie, in such a way as to abolish jeopardy, believability and credible consequence. It hardly needs to be said that paranoid intrigue, political violence and dysfunctional family dynamics are themes that this director has already addressed more memorably. But perhaps it is this remarkable body of achievement which gives him the right to disregard criticism now.

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