(director/writer: Francis Ford Coppola; cinematographer: Mihai Malaimare Jr./Special cinematography: Ron Fricke; editors: Cam McLauchlin, Glen Scantlebury; music: Osvaldo Golijov; cast: Adam Driver (Cesar Catilina), Giancarlo Esposito (Mayor Franklyn Cicero), Nathalie Emmanuel (Julia Catilina), Aubrey Plaza (Wow Platinum), Shia LaBeouf (Clodio Pulcher), Jon Voight (Hamilton Crassius III), Laurence Fishburne (Fundie Romaine, the narrator), Talia Shire (Constance Crassus Catilina), Jason Schwartzman (Jason Zanderz), Kathryn Hunter (Teresa Cicero), Grace VanderWaal (Vesta Sweetwater), Chloe Fineman (Clodia Pulcher), James Remar (Charles Cothope), D.B. Sweeney (Commissioner Stanley Hart), Isabelle Kusman (Claudine Pulcher), Bailey Ives (Huey Wilkes), Madeleine Gardella (Claudette Pulcher), Balthazar Getty (Aram Kazanjian), Romy Mars (Girl Reporter), Haley Sims (Sunny Hope Catalina), Dustin Hoffman (Nush ‘The Fixer’ Berman); Runtime: 138; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Roos, Barry Hirsch, Michael Bederman; Zoetrope Studios; 2024)

“Rather than being a great or bad film, I found it to be a curious one I liked despite its flaws and lack of being believable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 85-year-old Francis Ford Coppola (“Apocalypse Now”/”The Godfather”), in his first feature film in thirteen years, in a script he wrote in the early 1980s, is writer/director of this epic, big-budget, visionary drama, that worries America’s future is teetering on falling apart from within like it did for the Roman Empire.

No studio would fund the sprawling film shopped around by the legendary filmmaker. So Coppola had to self-finance it for a reported budget of $120 million–raised in part through selling off a part of his wine business. 

Investors wouldn’t invest because they couldn’t see a wide audience for such a bizarre noncommercial film that covers in one picture so many different genres: like political drama, sci-fi, neo-noir, romance, screwball comedy and references to literature (Goethe), philosophy (Cicero), poetry (Shakespeare), history (the Roman emperor, Mark Aurelius), and religion (Plutarch as a priest/philosopher).

It’s an ambitious personal film that is baffling, quirky, unwatchable and maybe, even at times, awe inspiring.

It’s also bloated, enigmatic, verbose, ponderous, and messy, while also playful, visually stunning, and enlightening. Rather than being a great or bad film, I found it to be a curious one I liked despite its flaws and lack of being believable.

Decked-out in a bowl haircut, in his office in a revised Chrysler Building, the visionary architect and scientist Cesar Catilina (Adam Driver), a grieving widower whose wife died in a car accident, is an idealist, a Nobel-prize winner, and a man of action,. He’s a staunch rival of the uninspiring, practical-minded, conservative Mayor Franklyn Cicero (Giancarlo Esposito), who aims to revitalize NYC (renamed New Rome) by building a casino. Cesar, on the other hand, seeks to dump the status-quo, corrupt ruling class mayor and build a utopian future in Megalon (thus the title), an environmental safe material Cesar invented with all sorts of high tech possibilities.

The action takes place in a retro-futurist bustling New York City of the 21st century, where the power of the internet has diminished, and Cesar as the Robert Moses type of urban developer uses his secret powers to control time as an artist.

This visionary film indicates the great filmmaker still hasn’t lost his hope that cinema can be a positive influence in the world.

Some supporting characters who caught my eye are the following:

Julia (Nathalie Emmanuel), the socialite daughter of the corrupt mayor, who rejects her father’s corruption to begin a romance and working relationship with Cesar.

Aubrey Plaza as the power-hungry financial TV-journalist Wow Platinum, who fell in love with Cesar.

A miscast Jon Voight as Hamilton Crassus III, Cesar’s wealthy uncle and the head of Crassus National Bank.

Laurence Fishburne as Fundi Romaine, Cesar’s driver and assistant, and the film’s narrator.

Talia Shire as Constance Crassus Catilina, Cesar’s mother.

Kathryn Hunter as Teresa Cicero, the mayor’s wife.

Dustin Hoffman, in a superficial role, as Nush Berman, the mayor’s fixer.

The fable about the fall of Ancient Rome and the visionary plans to save New Rome, asks if civilization can correct itself before it’s too late.
I wish it had been a better constructed film that had more passion and a more lucid story. Coppola had forty years to put together a more coherent film on the importance of the artist in society, but squandered the opportunity. 

Still there are diamonds to be found, like in the non-sequitur, “When we leap into the unknown, we prove that we are free.”  

It played at the Cannes Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 6/16/2024  GRADE: B-