The Last Tycoon review: Binge away on Amazon, Matt Bomer’s lavish Hollywood drama
The Last Tycoon review: Amazon’s lavish adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald posthumously released final novel features a magnetic central performance by Matt Bomer.tv Updated: Aug 03, 2017 14:08 IST
The Last Tycoon
Cast - Matt Bomer, Kelsey Grammer, Lily Collins, Dominique McElligott
Rating - 3.5/5
It’s 1936. Hollywood. The movies have just found a voice. Girls, wet behind the ears, are flooding in on buses into a world they’re unprepared for, a world at odds with itself. The rich are at war with the poor, husbands at war with wives, children at war with parents, women at war with men, and across the sea, a new enemy is insidiously laying the seeds for something bigger: A war to end all wars.
At the centre of it all is Monroe Stahr, a young movie producer working at Brady America Pictures, a young movie studio. He hides – despite being the studio’s poster-boy, adored by everyone from the lighting technicians to the boss’ daughter – in his isolated cliff-side mansion, smiling away the advances of the hottest starlets in town, still in mourning after his wife’s death.
The Last Tycoon is the second time Amazon has dipped its toes in the life of F Scott Fitzgerald. Earlier this year, they released Z: The Beginning of Everything, a partially fictionalised account of Scott Fitzgerald’s romance with Zelda, played in the show by Christina Ricci. The Last Tycoon is based on Fitzgerald’s final, unfinished book, posthumously published in 1941, and previously adapted in the ‘70s by Elia Kazan.
It was a semi-fictional account of Fitzgerald’s years working as a writer-for-hire in Hollywood, laced, as things usually are, with some amount of truth.
Much has been written about his time making movies, mostly by Fitzgerald himself in his Pat Hobby series of short stories, but most recently in Stuart O’Nan’s wonderful novel, West of Sunset. He arrived in Hollywood in 1937, his best years behind him, on the brink of financial ruin, and the love of his life, Zelda, locked away in a mental facility.
And as much as he hated having to live Hollywood, it would be the town in which he died.
Monroe Stahr, however, loves it. He makes pictures because it’s the only thing he knows how to do. But after years of success making crowd-pleasing fare, he wants to make something that’ll be remembered for decades, something that can make a difference, something important. And the winning idea is right there in front of him.
Every day it seems, German diplomats are sent to meet with studio bosses to make sure none of the upcoming movies happen to contain something that would be displeasing to the fuhrer, especially since he is such a fan of the pictures; he watches one every evening, they say.
Desperate to do better, Monroe teams up with the boss’ passionate 19-year-old daughter, played by Lily Collins, and sets into motion a new movie. It’ll be a sly piece of work, carefully condemning the rise of fascism in Europe without ruffling any feathers. The last thing they want is to get blacklisted. The film would have drama, romance, and espionage. The crowd would love it, and Monroe would finally have done something to be proud of. To direct his baby, he hires the master of German expressionism, Fritz Lang, a volatile pervert if there ever was one.
And he isn’t the only historical figure to earn a less-than-flattering appearance on the show. In its unusual, nine-episode first season, The Last Tycoon introduces Louis B Mayer (founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), Irving Thalberg (said to be the real-life inspiration behind Monroe) and Hedda Hopper (the famous gossip columnist).
But despite featuring more characters, and more subplots than would be advisable, the show does right by each an every one of them – big or small. And no matter how disagreeable some of their decisions may be, we, the audience, are always aware of the motivations behind them. Credit for this must go to series creator Billy Ray, who writes these characters – everyone from Brady America’s head honcho, to the poor kid from Oklahoma who has fallen for his daughter – with empathy and respect.
They sometimes tend to blurt out their feelings when actions would have been enough, but that’s part of their charm.
But how can we end without mentioning Matt Bomer even once? We can’t. There are very few scenes in which his lavishly-lit matinee idol face isn’t front and centre. But there’s more to Monroe than the reservoirs of charm he seems to swim in. Essentially, Bomer has to play two characters; the public Monroe, who’s the life of every party, a Depression-era Robin Hood for the men and women who work under him; and the tragic man who retires to his mansion every evening with only his shadow for company.
It’s a showy character in need of a subtle performance. Thankfully, Bomer understands that.