The Bonfire of the Vanities
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New York City, 1985. Sherman McCoy (Tom Hanks) is a financial wnderkid who is about to earn a million dollars through a bonds scheme. His life looks perfect. His wife Judy (dark-haired Kim Cattrall) is a bit eccentric and posh, but she plays the perfect-mother-and-wife game to their only daughter Campbell (Kirsten Dunst). Unknown to his loyal wife, Sherman is having an affair with Maria Ruskin (Melanie Griffith). She's a Southern belle gold digger who enjoys using her sexual charms to get what she wants, and got married to a wealthy old man.

However, all hell breaks loose one dark night when Sherman and Maria are going out. She's returning from an overseas business trip and while driving her back to her Manhattan apartment from New York's J.F.K. Airport, they take a wrong turn, exiting on the Long Island Expressway and the end up lost in a drug-filled "war zone" area of South Bronx. After finding a ramp leading back onto the expressway, they find the ramp blocked by debris. Against Maria's advice, Sherman gets out of the car to clear the debris from the ramp when he is approached by two black youths whom presumably are coming to rob him. Seeing the two thugs approaching Sherman, Maria gets behind the wheel of the car and drives off in a panic and runs over a teenager who happened to be passing by. Sherman begins to attack one of the black youths while the other one flees. Having cleared the ramp, Sherman returns to the car. Maria wants to leave the place as soon as possible, so they leave the wounded boy on the street. Sherman and Maria drive away and make it back to Manhattan where they swear not to report the incident to anyone.

The black teenager who was run over, Henry Lamb (Patrick Malone), is found and taken to a nearby hospital, where he falls into a coma. Soon after, the investigation of Henry's accident begins. The hot-tempered local community leader, Reverend Beacon (John Hancock) threatens to create a "Bronx uprising" (a race riot) if the police don't find the "rich white man" who ran over an "innocent black teenager". The reasons for Beacon's involvement is that he merely wants to stir up popular feelings to cause unrest and tension by claiming that Henry's case is a case of institutional racism in America.

Under severe pressure, NYPD Detectives Martin and Goldberg (Barton Heyman and Norman Parker) investigate all cars which look like the runaway car that was described by various witnesses to the accident. They finally check on Sherman, who refuses to let them see his car, and because of that, he pinpoints himself as a suspect. As a result he gets arrested. Sherman spends a long and demoralizing night in jail (where he presumably gets beaten and harassed by fellow detainees). At his courtroom arraignment the next morning, Sherman is so dehumanized from his experience that he can barely speak in court. Sherman's lawyer Tom Killian (Kevin Dunn) enters a not guilty plea on his behalf.

The prosecutor, Jed Kramer (Saul Rubinek), is very interested in putting Sherman in jail to begin his political career with a strong aim at rich people, gaining the popular favor for himself. Against Kramer's protest, Sherman is released on bail pending a probable cause hearing to begin the following week.

Meanwhile, Peter Fallow (Bruce Willis) is an always-drunk, good-for-nothing journalist who is forced to investigate the matter in order to ingratiate himself with his boss. Reverend Beacon is interested in stirring popular feelings as well, claiming that Henry's hit-and-run case is being used politically, as the Jewish district attorney Abe Weiss (F. Murray Abraham), who is the Bronx District Attorney seeking re-election, wants to ingratiate himself with the black community in the area. According to Judge Leonard White (Morgan Freeman), almost all of D.A. Weiss' prosecutions end up with black and Puerto Rican defendants going to prison and Weiss is seeking a white defendant for purposes of convincing the community that he is worth re-electing.

Following Sherman's release on bail, Fallow follows him from the courthouse and onto a local subway train where he interacts with Sherman (without telling him that he is a journalist) to try to get him to open up with facts about the case. Sherman tells Fallow that he was there on that night but was not the one driving the car. Fallow is very surprised, but Sherman gets off the train before Fallow can ask him anymore questions.

Sherman goes to Maria to plead with her to come forward in order to admit to driving the car that put the black teenager in the hospital, but she wants to be left out of the problem. She's married to a wealthy older man named Arthur Ruskin (Alan King), who allows her to have her freedom and plenty of money as a trophy wife. She sublets an apartment to her friend Caroline Heftshank (Beth Broderick), whom Fallow is currently dating. It's a rent-controlled flat, so Caroline and Maria are being investigated by the authorities in order to prove that Caroline doesn't live there. Maria has several mics (bugs) put around her flat.

Fallow talks to Arthur Ruskin in at a luxurious restaurant about the Sherman case and about Maria's involvment with Sherman. They drink a lot, and Fallow tries to get some information from Maria's husband. Ruskin dies from a heart-attack on the spot, creating a commotion at the snobbish restaurant.

Meanwhile, Henry's mother, Annie Lamb (Mary Alice) wants to go out and buy new clothes for herself. Suddenly, she looks more interested in making the most of the situation than to be with her son in hospital. Beacon accepts the idea. Annie sues the hospital because they're not giving proper care to Henry, who still remains in a coma. Reverend Beacon and Kramer meet with Mrs. Lamb where they try to persuade her to testify against Sherman as they work behind the scenes to frame Sherman for the hit-and-run to further advance their own careers... as well as look good in front of the TV news cameras.

Elsewhere, Sherman, who used to consider himself a "master of the universe," now is without a job. In just one day, he gets fired because his employers do not want any bad publicity for their firm. That evening, he arrives home for a party he had forgotten about. Judy angrily tells him that she's leaving him and is taking their daughter with her because Judy also believes the biased news stories about him committing the hit-and-run. Just then, Sherman's landlord enters and wants him out of the building as soon as possible, because several black people are demonstrating outside the building, and they look like a lynch mob, which is bad publicity for the building and disturbs the wealthy tenants. Sherman suffers a nervous breakdown and he starts shooting a shotgun at the walls of the apartment. Everybody leaves in a panic.

Kramer is trying to play both sides: he puts microphones on both Maria and Sherman, in order that the recording proves which one of them was driving the car at the moment of the hit-and-run. Sherman and Maria secretly meet at the funeral of Maria's husband, but she seems adamant to have sex. Sherman can't believe it, but as usual, he's weak with her and was going to fall for it. However, she rejects him when she feels the microphone hidden under his clothes.

Sherman has lost everything, but at least his visiting father (Donald Moffat) backs him up somehow, telling him that he loves and will always support him while they are talking Sherman's now empty executive home.

Meanwhile, Fallow, who used to be a downtrodden loser a few days ago, feels pity for Sherman, who is losing everything and can't even prove that he's innocent. In a restaurant gathering with some fellow newspaper-related people, Caroline approaches him, telling him that she's lost her flat because of Maria's inability to stay silent. The mic audio recordings have proved that Caroline didn't really live in the flat, subletting it with black money. Fallow talks to the guy who had put the microphones (Vito D'Ambrosio), and comes to know the truth. Fallow aquires the recordings and then gives them to Sherman.

In court at Sherman's probable cause hearing, Judge Leonard White tries to control the proceedings, so that there are no political demonstrations. Maria is taken to the stand, where she lies by saying that Sherman was driving the car, acting as an all-innocent widow. Kramer had given her immunity in order to frame Sherman, also threatening her with falsely charging her with perjury if she does not testify against him. Without even telling his lawyer, Sherman plays the recording Fallow had given him. In it, Maria admits she was the one who had been driving Sherman's car that notorious evening, and also mocks her own late husband. She faints on the stand from this turn of events.

It works. Judge White has to stop the proceedings when Kramer tries to snatch the mini-tape recorder out of Sherman's hands. Kramer and Sherman's lawyer, Killian, approach the bench because of the new evidence. Sherman lies by asserting that the tape is all his (making it admissible evidence and it is technically truthful since it refers only to the dummy tape he was holding and ignores the real tape that is hidden which is not his).

The courtroom spectators go in an uproar, to which Judge White responds by launching a tirade, stating that they have no right to act self-righteous and smarmy, or above Sherman, considering Reverend Beacon claims to help disadvantaged black New Yorkers but actually engages in race baiting, or that the District Attorney Weiss pushed this case not in the interest of contempt from justice but in the public opinion, in order to appeal to voters from minorities, in order to further his political career, appealing to their desire to "get even". Judge White dismisses the case because of decency and truth, in which nobody is interested. Sherman is free to go.

Through all of this, Fallow is watching everything while standing annoymously among a group of reporters. As a triumphant and relived Sherman leaves the courtroom with his lawyer, amind the black spectators who continue to yell and insult him, Fallow states in voice-over: "And that was the last time anyone saw or heard of Sherman McCoy". After this, Sherman left New York City and was never publicly seen or heard of again, presumably to live humbly in another state or even in another country in obscurity.

In the final scene, set five years later in 1990, there is a large audience applauding Peter Fallow's premiere of his very first book titled Bonfire of the Vanities. Reverend Beacon, Jed Kramer, DA Weiss, Tom Killian, Judge White, Caroline, Annie Lamb, and the rest of people who had something to do with the case (except for Sherman McCoy) are in attendance. In a final voice-over, Fallow states that he never saw Sherman McCoy again, but quotes a well-known Bible verse from the Book of Mark, Chapter 8, Verse 36: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?" Fallow says that Sherman lost everything to gain his soul. Fallow says of himself that he has gained everything but... (he doesn't finish the sentence. It's implied that he has sold his soul to the system in order to become successful).

Fallow says that there are always compensations to selling one's soul for success. He stands up and takes an the award he's given concerning the book he wrote about Sherman's case.
Page last updated by KrystelClaire, 1 year ago
Top Contributors: KrystelClaire, ehagen-6, matt-282, mep1019


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