A star rating of 4 out of 5.

Arriving in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, Francis Ford Coppola’s dream project Megalopolis is finally here.


An idea the famed director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now first hatched in 1977, it’s a wildly ambitious look at power and avarice, comparing modern-day America to the structures of Ancient Rome.

Adam Driver heads a starry cast, playing Cesar Catilina, an architect who fantasises about building an urban utopia – named Megalopolis. But to do so will mean facing off with many enemies who scheme to bring him down.

Based in New Rome, his office centred in what looks suspiciously like New York’s Chrysler Building, Catalina wants to make "a city the people can dream about".

His skills stretch beyond mere bricks and mortar. He has the ability to control time, while Megalopolis itself will be built from 'megalon', a unique substance that some believe is unsafe.

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At one point, a young Taylor Swift-like singer named Vesta Sweetwater (Grace VanderWaal) is wearing a dress made of this translucent, shimmery material. "You can see right through me," she wails. At times, Megalopolis itself feels just as elusive.

Does Catalina have the nation’s best interests at heart? He’s "the guiltiest man unhanged", suggests Mayor Franklyn Cicero (Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito), whose desirable daughter Julia (Nathalie Emmanuel) has caught the architect’s eye.

Others who resent him include Clodio Pulcher (Shia LaBeouf), an extravagant and flamboyant figure who, at one point, is seen wearing a toga and gold platform stilettos. Then there’s wealthy bank owner Hamilton Crassus III (Jon Voight), who is first seen being interviewed by the brilliantly-named Wow Platinum (Aubrey Plaza), a TV reporter and ruthless social climber.

There is more than a flavour of Citizen Kane about Megalopolis, with Driver’s character not unlike newspaper baron Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles’s masterpiece.

Is it as good? No, but you can’t fault Coppola for his fierce invention. At one point, the film daringly moves towards live interactive theatre. The screen narrows, focusing on Driver’s face and, at the screening I attended, a spotlight in the auditorium came on and an actor arrived on stage, in front of the screen, with a microphone.

It’s a bizarre but somewhat thrilling moment. Will this happen at every future showing? Maybe not, but its a bravura piece of showmanship.

With scenes of chariot racing (captured with a very lovely a POV shot), Coppola also makes the Rome comparisons clear with Bacchanalian partying that suggests we are in the last days of a crumbling empire.

Some will clearly balk at the dialogue, which draws from Shakespeare (Driver quotes Hamlet’s 'To be or not to be' speech at one point) and many others.

It’s as far from social realism as you can get, though it’s easy to become swept up in its romantic idealism (not least the scene where Cesar is standing on girders, high above the city, as he shares a kiss with Julia, just as he stops time and a bunch of flowers freezes in motion mid-air).

No question, the film doesn’t entirely work, with performances a real mixed bag (LaBeouf, for example, is wildly over-the-top, compared to Driver’s dour turn). But what would you expect in a film that features on Elvis impersonator and Jon Voight boasting about his "boner"?

The film does finish on a touching note, dedicated to Coppola’s dear wife Eleanor, who died in April, just as Coppola was putting the finishing touches to the film. If this is to be Coppola’s last movie, he goes out as a true artist who pursued his vision – rather like Driver’s Cesar – to the very end.

Megalopolis is coming to UK cinemas soon.


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