REVIEW: Amazon’s ‘The Last Tycoon’ a Prime example of Hollywood self-love
Having tried its hand at rewriting history with last year’s The Man in the High Castle, Amazon Studios now attempts to align itself with the Golden Age of Hollywood in its latest pilot, The Last Tycoon. Splashing the cash on 1930s sets and costumes and casting hot property Matt Bomer as its leading man, the luxurious period piece takes its basis from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final unfinished novel of the same name. On paper it all sounds rather promising, right? Sadly, in telling a story we’re all too familiar with, this history of the movies casts a dark shadow over the future of television.
Perhaps we wouldn’t be quite so critical of The Last Tycoon had its subject matter not already been covered so exhaustively. Three Academy Awards for Best Picture in the past five years have gone to films about how the showbiz industry sees itself – The Artist (2011), Argo (2012), and Birdman (2014). So when the regrettable Trumbo rolled around to cinemas earlier this year, it was all too blatantly another example of Hollywood self-love; writers, directors and producers making a movie about how writers, directors and producers are the only people in the goddamned business bold enough to stick it to the fascists and pour their hearts into making “people laugh, sing and forget” in times of political and social upheaval. And now, many months after we all threw our hands up and screamed ‘please, no more’, Amazon drops The Last Tycoon.
We’re not exaggerating when we say the show’s pilot comprises all the hallmarks we’ve come to expect from the tired genre outlined above. While the terribly talented and charming Matt Bomer really does give the performance his all, he’s sadly restrained by his clichéd character as devoted studio exec Monroe Stahr, the self-made Jew from the Bronx who uses ‘tha pictures’ to perpetuate his ideals of the American Dream. Meanwhile, Kelsey Grammer’s greedy, womanising panto villain-type is no more original. We soon found ourselves playing a game of ‘finish his sentence’, so hackneyed is his dialogue as studio owner Pat Brady; “I invented him”, “We’re here to make money”, “He believes in things that don’t even exist anymore”, etc etc etc…
It comes as no surprise then that the show’s more personal and romantic strands are of far greater interest than its contextual, ‘historical’ conventions. Elements straight from Fitzgerald’s pen, such as Stahr’s race to immortalise his late wife by making “that one perfect picture” about her before he himself carks it from congenital heart disease, have since become predictable in their own way, but nevertheless intrigue we fans of melodrama.
British beauty Lily Collins could prove to be the show’s true star, playing Brady’s wide-eyed-but-not-so-innocent daughter Cecilia, who yearns to be taken seriously by her crush Stahr and the industry in general. Her interest in social issues is hinted throughout the pilot, and with concerns of the studio’s output pleasing Hitler’s Germany – Hollywood’s second biggest foreign market in a Depression – underlying board discussions, we look forward to the inevitable clashes between the scrappy youngster and her avaricious father.
That being said, there is of course no guarantee of the show being picked up for further episodes. As all Amazon pilots must do, The Last Tycoon lives and dies by the audience, whose feedback will tell the studio whether or not to pursue it for a full season. Something tells us that the image of Matt Bomer as the honourable, lovelorn hero in a perfectly tailored suit will be enough to see this one through. If not, this on-screen adaptation could follow in the footsteps of the unfinished story from which it was born.