Sprawling, Flawed, Fascinating: At 85, Francis Ford Coppola Gets the Final Word With ‘Megalopolis’


Director Francis Ford Coppola attends the 'Megalopolis' photocall at the 77th Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 17, 2024. Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

This year’s Cannes Film Festival was all about older, legendary filmmakers making movies, as if their time was running out. 

Case in point: Kevin Costner, 69, premiered Horizon: An American Saga, a story that he’s been kicking around in his head since Dances With Wolves and which he financed himself and stepped away from his popular series Yellowstone to make. Meanwhile, Taxi Driver writer Paul Schrader, 77, attended with his draft-dodger drama Oh, Canada. Schrader, who had a health scare because of COVID, talks about the film as though it will be his last, though he’ll keep going if time allows. Oh, Canada is his “last film” only because it came after his “last, last film” and precludes what may be his next “last film.”

The most spectacular premiere at Cannes, however, belonged to Schrader’s fellow New Hollywood cohort, Francis Ford Coppola. The Godfather director, 85, finally unveiled Megalopolis, a sprawling and borderline impenetrable passion project that has been decades in the making. 

The idea for Megalopolis existed in Coppola’s mind since Apocalypse Now, his bold 1979 nightmarish movie about the Vietnam War. Its notoriously embattled production in Cambodia had little studio support, even though Coppola had just delivered two Godfather movies and The Conversation and should have been considered Hollywood’s most bankable bet.

Coppola had to literally bet the farm on Megalopolis, charging forward unfazed while studios refused, yet again, to support his mad (and judging from the reactions at Cannes, divisive) vision. Coppola staked his own vineyard to finance the huge $120 million bill for the challenging film that premiered at the fest on May 16.

“I never cared about money,” he said at the Cannes press conference for Megalopolis the following day, when asked about the financial risk he’s taking and whether he’s going to feel it. “There are so many people, when they die, they say ‘I wish I had done this and I wish I had done that.’ But when I die, I’m going to say, ‘I got to do this and I got to see my daughter (Sofia Coppola) win an Oscar and I got to make wine and I got to make every movie I wanted to make.’ I’m going to be so busy thinking about all the things that I got to do that when I die I won’t notice it.”

With that sentiment in mind, Coppola’s Megalopolis also feels like his last-ditch effort to say everything he wants to say. The movie houses seemingly every idea, criticism, fascination and passion Coppola has, whether it be about the history and future of the arts and humanity, social structures, climate change, evolution, existence, love and what exists beyond all that. Megalopolis is all-encompassing – bursting at the seams really – both extremely flawed and fascinating because of it. –

The movie stars Adam Driver as Cesar, the head of the “Design Authority” in a futuristic New York City, dubbed New Rome. This is a place where Madison Square Garden is called the Coliseum, jargon switches as though actors are performing in comedia dell’arte, Shakespeare and Fox News, and Shia LeBouf, playing a scoundrel cousin to Cesar, alternates costumes between white Roman garbs and Versace prints. The cast also includes old and new gen stars like Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, Aubrey Plaza and Nathalie Emmanuel.

Francis Ford Coppola with Adam Driver, who plays the lead role of Cesar, the head of the “Design Authority” in Megalopolis at the Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2024. Photo: Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images


They play Cesar’s political rivals and allies, some weaponizing the women he loves and those he grieves for against him, as he tries to save New Rome from collapse, like the Roman civilization of old, and turn it into a utopia in sync with nature and cosmos.

There’s a touch of self-portraiture in Megalopolis, the extent in which Cesar’s ambition and dreams mirror Coppola’s own romantic pursuits. It’s endearing how Coppola makes great strides to eagerly include the audience in what comes off as a self-indulgent and singular vision.  Megalopolis is more like a sentimental, DaVinci-like fresco trying to show how everything and everyone is connected in civilization and art. He ties different eras and styles together in his storytelling, which is why the movie drifts so confoundingly between them. Megalopolis can feel at times like an opulent Ben-Hur-like classic; or an outlandish, farcical comedy; or The Matrix. Spoiler alert: at one point Megalopolis breaks into an interactive stage play. A cinema usher at our screening here in Cannes stepped on stage with the microphone and began performing along with the movie – a fourth wall-breaking stunt to remind the audience that they too are part of this hopeful story.

In Megalopolis, the audience is the subject; and the stage, cinema and canvas can all be one, intricately tied together just as everything else. New York is Rome; a utopia is a dystopia; the spiritual lives with the physical; the modern, and the future, is also history; the end is just the beginning; to be near death is to be alive again.

(L to R) Megalopolis cast members Giancarlo Esposito, Aubrey Plaza, Francis Ford Coppola (director), Romy Mars, Adam Driver, Kathryn Hunter and Laurence Fishburne at the film’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on  May 16, 2024. Photo: Laurent Koffel/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images


Does it work? Not necessarily. Was it worth it? Absolutely! This may not be a good movie (time will tell I suppose), but it’s an incredible experience.

The most potent device in Coppola’s movie is time – or how everything across time and space is connected. Driver’s Cesar has the magical ability to stop time. The movie opens with him perched at the pinpoint top of his skyscraper, demanding that time stop so he can watch the downtown traffic stand still. From his position, New York City erm, New Rome appears like a timepiece: all of its towers, traffic and citizens looking like the intricately connected cogs that make the clock work.

At the press conference Coppola spoke about how all art is about time. 

“Art,” says Coppola, “is about controlling time.”

Painters and architects freeze it. Dancers move to it. 

Coppola, I would suggest, defies it.


Francis Ford Coppola Celebrates the 50th Anniversary of The Godfather as a New Series Shows How the Film Got Made