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Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis

Adam Driver in Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis (2024)

Just about everyone was pulling for Francis Ford Coppola when he brought Megalopolis and several members of his family to Cannes last week. He’d spent $120 million of his own money to realize a vision that took hold of him more than forty years ago. “That’s the kind of extravagant gesture you don’t get to ever see on this scale,” writes Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov, “and hence destined to be praised for being willed into existence amidst a sea of algorithmically conceived risk-aversion—or, alternately, decried as a hubristic folly in the trades with a palpable subtext of ‘how dare he?’”

Since Thursday’s premiere, there have been raves, and there have been pans, but few would disagree with the New York Times’s Manohla Dargis when she calls Megalopolis “a great big movie, one whose sincerity is finally as moving as its unbounded artistic ambition.” Like Joh Fredersen in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), the visionary architect Cesar Catilina (Adam Driver) has an office at the top of a skyscraper—specifically, the Chrysler Building—where he dreams up a plan to rebuild New Rome with an organic material he calls Megalon.

Cesar is facing opposition from the corrupt mayor, Franklyn Cicero (Giancarlo Esposito), whose team includes his wife (Kathryn Hunter), a filthy rich banker (Jon Voight), a fixer (Dustin Hoffman), and Cesar’s own cousin, (Shia LaBeouf). Torn between the two sides is the mayor’s daughter, Julia (Nathalie Emmanuel), who has been doing some soul-searching. Aubrey Plaza, “whose character is a trashy TV news personality called Wow Platinum,” explains the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin, “has the measure of the thing better than anyone bar Coppola himself: she’s fantastic, both in her more conventionally dramatic scenes and the film’s numerous psychedelic meltdowns, in which she often looms on the screen like a Blade Runner hologram.”

“Everyone who loves cinema owes Francis Ford Coppola a very great deal,” writes the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, “including honesty.” For Bradshaw, Megalopolis is “a passion project without passion: a bloated, boring, and bafflingly shallow film, full of high-school-valedictorian verities about humanity’s future.” Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson calls the film “a near unmitigated disaster,” and the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney finds it “windy and overstuffed, frequently baffling and way too talky, quoting Hamlet and The Tempest, Marcus Aurelius and Petrarch, ruminating on time, consciousness, and power to a degree that becomes ponderous. But it’s also often amusing, playful, visually dazzling, and illuminated by a touching hope for humanity.”

In the Los Angeles Times, Joshua Rothkopf observes that Coppola “has moved from the cynicism of his greatest films like The Conversation and Apocalypse Now—so much power doing so much corrupting—and into something that could fairly be called utopian. I’m not sure if that’s what I want from him as an artist, but I thrill to his unbowed aspiration. He’s going out not with something tame and manicured but with an overstuffed, vigorous, seething story about the roots of fascism that only an uncharitable viewer would call a catastrophe. Rather, it feels like a city. It may be the most radical film he’s ever done.”

This is “a nine-figure movie that flows with the ramshackle energy of a Wooster Group production,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. Slate’s Sam Adams notes that, as the recent passing of Roger Corman has reminded us, “Coppola was among the raft of future titans, including Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, and Jonathan Demme, who got their start making no-budget films for the B-movie king, and Coppola’s epic is as informed by the lowbrow imperatives of drive-in schlock as it is by highfalutin philosophies.” Little White Lies editor David Jenkins suggests that Megalopolis “sits at a midpoint between Southland Tales and Inland Empire, while also nodding to Fellini and Lang and von Stroheim and Murnau and Tati . . .”

Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri senses “the imagination of someone who came of age in the 1950s, with its visions of scientific progress, innovative design, and space-age wonder. How odd and curiously apropos that when we do see glimpses of Coppola’s city of the future in this 2024 film, it doesn’t seem too far from something we might have seen on The Jetsons.

Megalopolis is “assembled from a jumble of classic practical and new-school techniques,” writes Mark Asch at InsideHook, and they include “iris effects, flashbulb montages, shadow-puppets, split-screen, superimpositions and psychedelic abstract visualizations, airbrush-slick CGI cityscapes conjuring Trapper Keeper illustrations and Art Deco pastiches. It’s hectic, overabundant, luxuriant, and disorienting; as in Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the visual range of the film spans the prehistory and history of moving-picture technology to tell the story of a lonely man beating back the currents of time.”

Time’s Stephanie Zacharek sees in Megalopolis “a wail of despair, a rallying cry to save the principles of our wobbly republic, a trumpet blast of reassurance that we humans can re-learn to live with thought and intention, and to dare one another into ever-more-dazzling intellectual endeavors and feats of creativity.” Zacharek “might have caught about a third of it, at best, but I’ll take a messy, imaginative sprawl over a waxen, tasteful enterprise any day.”

For the New Yorker’s Justin Chang, “what is inescapably moving about Megalopolis, and what throws even its strangest excesses into meaningful relief, is the degree to which it has evolved into an allegory of its own making. Coppola has made a defense of the beautiful and the impractical, not just as principles of urban design or meaningful living but as art-sustaining forces in the cinema itself. This picture may find him near the end of a long, embattled career, but the mere fact that it exists, in its breathtaking and sometimes exasperating singularity, feels like an expression of hope.”

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