Let me make this clear. Although I believe in objective reviewing, The Bonfire of the Vanities is my favourite book of all time. For me it is the most seminal novel of the 20th century, despite it competing with a continual strand of new forms of entertainment. It manages not only to capture the zeitgeist of its day, but also to reflect the true nature of humanity itself. As for the film, it was released to little acclaim, despite its all star cast, and failed to make its budget back domestically. BOTV focuses on the life on Sherman McCoy, an eighties Wall Street banker at the height of the Wall Street boom. After getting involved in a car accident his life spirals down to the gutter. At the same time, it follows those involved with the case, what it means to them, and how their own personal lives are affecting what happens. My true love for the book comes from the objective nature of its characters. No one can be labeled as a “banker” or “journalist”, or put into little boxes. They are just human beings , making mistakes, trying to work out the best path for them. At the same time it is hilarious, sad, action packed and slow burning, whilst at the same time providing the best tragic protagonist since Willy Loman. I wanted to love the film. Bruce Willis, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, even Kim Cattrall; none of these actors I have a problem with. Brian DePalma in the eighties - what a choice! The cinematography is great, the direction engaging, and the cast does not disappoint, working as well as they can with the script available, and the characters given.
But it simply isn’t there. Hanks as a wall street banker? Bruce Willis as a reporter, especially a reporter who in the book was Irish and blonde? Key sections from the book are missing, and it feels more like a show-reel for a longer television series than a complete project. Now of course this is not fair. Both must be judged on their own merits, and if BOTV the film can engage and entertain, then perhaps it can cement its place alongside the source material. The real problem therefore becomes the tonal shifts. It just can’t decide whether it is a comedy, a drama, or a detective story, and it is here that cutting sections of the book becomes a problem. Whereas the novel can explore each section in turn, and reveal that no situation has just one emotion behind it, the film has to try and keep the pace going over just two hours, and it eventually falls into disarray. It’s a bit like buying an ironic poster of the Mona Lisa smoking a cigarette; the basic message is there, but you’ll miss out on all the quality thanks to the new interpretation. So this time: A one horse race. One of the most seminal works of the 20th century, versus a well meant but ultimately meaningless tie in. Verdict: Book.