“Bonfire of the Vanities”: Movie review

Sherman McCoy’s unstoppable rise to Wall Street riches is derailed when his mistress Maria Ruskin (Melanie Griffith) runs over a young black teenager. Sherman’s wife can tolerate just about anything, “but not TV,” and that’s exactly what’s happening as the public shaming comes down on Sherman’s head at the instigating of a mayor up for re-election and willing to toss any white rich guy into jail to secure black votes. The story breaks as a result of a tip given to a down-and-out hard-drinking journalist (Bruce Willis) on the brink of ruin, but as he climbs back to society and peer acceptance on the rungs of this gutter-raking story, he begins to realize he’s a pawn to something bigger.
Almost every single character in this story is an opportunist, on the look-out to turn the situation to their advantage: the cops, the judges, the lawyers, the mayor and his staff, the district attorney, the reverend, the newspapermen… Even the mother waiting by her coma-stricken son’s bedside has one ear open for the sound of possible monetary gain. Judge Leonard White (Morgan Freeman) is one of the few to keep a level head focused on facts and justice, but even his rousing speech near the end of the film is a little cardboard and full of showmanship. Sherman’s father (Donald Moffat) is in fact the only man with any real unwavering integrity in this story, and even he has a moment of facing a “leaser of two evils” scenario.
This adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s novel expertly and sardonically strips away the false pretenses of every strata and element of society. The dialogue is witty and fast-moving. The acting is comically ridiculous and farcical. The narrative paces along nicely to its highly satisfying closure.

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