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59 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2002
This especially witty satire is one of the best movies about modern corporate attitudes ever made. It's based on the true story of the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco in the 1980s. While the filmmakers have naturally taken some artistic license, I think they capture the spirit of the event. In big business, they assert, given the choice between being greedy and doing the right thing, being greedy usually wins. This was especially true in this case because the bidding war that broke out drove the purchase price into the stratosphere. The company's stock, which had been trading in the $40 range was driven up to over $100. A whole lot of rich people got a whole lot richer.
There are many things to enjoy about "Barbarians at the Gate", not the least of which is James Garner as F. Ross Johnson, the man who ran RJR. He is completely believable as a natural born salesman who rose to run one of the world's biggest corporations. His greed may be a turnoff, but his zest for living is infectious and charming. You can't help liking the guy. His nemesis in this high stakes game in the financier, Henry Kravis, played by Jonathon Pryce. It's a deliciously villainous role, and Pryce makes the most of it. Also of note is the great character actor Peter Riegert as Peter Cohen, Johnson's right-hand man in the deal.
I especially liked the movie's tone. It looks upon the goings on with an eye as jaundiced as the players themselves. It views them as overgrown boys fighting over a very big toy, but it does so with an amused, almost affection, flavor. The result is an enormously entertaining and very funny movie.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 1997
Who knew you could make a comedy about a Leveraged Buyout (LBO)? James Garner, in a brilliant performance, plays F. Ross Johnson, the CEO of RJR Nabisco who wants to buy out the company. He learns about LBOs from the cool slick Henry Kravis, the then-master of the buyout (played by Jonathan Pryce). When Ross takes Kravis' advice and goes out on his own, Henry gets MAD and fires his own salvo. This was a time when people threw figures like "$25 billion" around and thought nothing of it. The technicals of the deal are explained with enough detail that non-financiers can easily follow what's going on. Nice satirical touches like Ross' wife's manicurist explaining the art of the deal to her. A lot of cussing; after all, this was the ultimate boys' game. Fine fun movie. END
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2003
People who complained that this movie doesn't compare to the book should relax a little. Any movie that's based on books cannot do the book justice in less than 2 hours. If you have 3 hours a la Lord of the Rings or 4 hours like the A&E production of Pride & Prejudice, then maybe and I would have adjusted my rating accordingly.
But this movie is under 2 hours and managed to take a very complicated topic in Leveraged Buy-Outs (LBO's) in one of the biggest LBO's of our time in RJR-Nabisco and manages to make the story very entertaining. It flows quickly and I had no trouble following what's going on.
The acting is superb; Jonathan Pryce played Henry Kravis as a cold, calculated and ruthless corporate raider (whether Kravis is like that in real life I don't know) and James Garner did a nice job as F. Ross Johnson. Overall, if you like wall street type movies like Wall Street with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen, I would highly recommend this movie. In fact, I like this better than Wall Street.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2000
In the wild and wooly 1980s, leveraged buyouts (LBOs) -- financed predominantly through the issuance of junk bonds -- reigned supreme. James Garner gives a nice performance as CEO of RJR Nabisco, F. Ross Johnson. After reluctantly meeting with KKR's LBO guru Henry Kravis (portrayed masterfully by Jonathan Pryce), Johnson figures it would be best to go his own route to accomplish the buyout; after all, Johnson wants to retain his autonomy and Pryce would unlikely allow this to happen.
An all-out power war ensues, with Johnson working with Shearson Lehman Brothers pitted against Kravis and the powerhouse Drexel Burnham Lambert (mysteriously downplayed).
The performances are great and the storyline moves fast and holds your interest. Not to be missed if the dynamic world of finance is your thing. A very different movie than Wall Street both cinematically and contextually.
Stars James Garner, Jonathan Pryce (really, really good), and Peter Riegert.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2000
I first saw this movie on HBO when it debuted in 1993 and have watched it over and over ever since. It is hillariously funny yet full of all the drama that the world of corporate buy outs holds - and whether you are familiar with that world or just as ignorant to all of it's inner workings as I was, you will easily follow the story. This movie is very well written (based on actual events that took place at RJR Nabisco)and provides superior performances by both James Garner and Jonathan Pryce. If you enjoy a story that combines comedy and drama geared for those that are beyond those Gen X years - give this a try. You'll love it!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 8, 2000
Great satirical take on an excellent book. James Garner nails Ross Johnson and his desire to takeover his company. Jonathan Pryce makes an excellent Henry Kravis. The supporting characters are very good, too. Funny, sad, sometimes intense. If you haven't read the book yet, the video can help you understand it in a superficial way and will probably make you want to pick it up to get the gory details of how it all came about. Of course, the book is much more straightforward in it's approach.
The video really lampoons the greed of the 1980's and makes the viewer wonder whatever became of the smokeless cigarette.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The book this movie is made from is a masterpiece of business literature. It is impossible to make that wonderful book into anything less than an extended documentary or a several part mini-series. That being admitted and set aside, this is a very good and very funny movie. Amazingly, it tells a lot of the actual story as you can cram into a standard movie format.
It is bitingly funny and like all satire that truly bites, it is funny because it is based on truth. This movie condenses the RJR - KKR competition into something like a farce (as it seemed in the papers at the time). Some may object to making such a huge deal into something of a joke, but c'mon, this whole deal had a large dose of the absurd about it. How else could they have played this story in two hours?
And it is has the additional benefit of being educational for business students. You will see how managers misuse shareholder money by treating it as if it were their own (agency costs). You will see planeloads of money poured into bad projects (NPV). You will see naked greed, inept investment advice, and broken trust (corporate ethics). You know, late 20th century American business! It is funny, dramatic, and a bit touching, for example, as they fly the sick pooch home on his own private corporate jet. (Which some deny every happening, but it has entered the realm of legend - so whether it happened or not it has become something like a kind of truth.)
James Garner is terrific (he almost always is) as is the whole cast. It really is a delightful movie and that is almost miraculous given how deadly boring this topic could have become.
But don't forget to read the book!
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25 of 33 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon October 8, 2004
The 1980s were a time of unparalleled corporate greed, or so the media told us then and now. You had a bunch of workaholic young executives known as "Yuppies" pounding the pavement in New York making complete fools out of themselves. Why? Because many of these dolts were the same ijits involved in the flower power movement a few years before. You simply must hand it to the Baby Boomers--never has a generation taken so much from so many and given back so little to so few. By the time the 1980s rolled around, many of these cads turned up their sleeves and went about changing the corporate world. Thanks a lot. Largely due to the efforts of this generation, we all have to jump through a lot more hoops to get and hold a job. "Barbarians at the Gate" is a satirical look at just one aspect of the corruption the Boomers helped bring to the work world, namely the managed/leveraged buy out (...). Although several of the principals in the film look much older than the Boomers, don't be fooled. It was the total lack of morality of the post-war generation that helped fuel the greed of the 1980s.

This made for HBO film--one of the best the channel ever created by the way--stars James Garner as Nabisco/RJR chief executive officer F. Ross Johnson. This is a guy who is a born salesman, as the beginning of the film shows us when we see a youthful Johnson selling photography sessions door to door. By the time he has grown up, he's running one of the biggest corporations in America, selling cookies and smokes to people around the world. In fact, Johnson's latest brainchild is the creation of a smokeless cigarette that promises to revolutionize the industry. The possibility of huge profits from the new venture leads Johnson to make an offhand comment about buying the company so he can hold on to most of the profits. Little does he know how easy it is to accomplish this goal. His friends put him on to a fellow named Henry Kravitz (Jonathan Pryce), a corporate raider known for his skills in buying up companies and turning huge profits in the process. Johnson meets with Henry, but doesn't care for the guy that much. For one thing, Kravitz is a bit on the cold side whereas Ross is everyone's witty friend. Worse, the Nabisco executive gets the feeling that Henry won't let him run the company the way he sees fit, i.e. maintaining a huge fleet of corporate jets and posh expense accounts.

Ross Johnson decides to go ahead with his leveraged buy out without Kravitz at the helm. He contacts his old friend Jim Robinson (Jim Thompson) over at American Express, who in turn brings in hotshot financial whiz Peter Cohen (Peter Riegert) from the firm of Shearson Lehman to help finance the deal. Robinson's ingratiating wife and public relations guru Linda (Joanna Cassidy) also lends a hand. All the principals must keep quiet about what they plan to do, though, because Kravitz and other sharks on Wall Street will jump into the fray if they get a whiff of Johnson's ambitious intentions. Of course, that's exactly what happens. Kravitz does discover the plan and makes it a personal crusade to force Johnson out of the picture. Henry considers himself the "Father of the LBO," and he's not about to let a bunch of upstarts steal his limelight. He's got his own hotshots willing to work night and day in order to present a better offer for RJR/Nabisco stock to the company's board. The majority of the film deals with the minutiae of back and forth backstabbing, blatant greed, under the table dealing, and assorted other highly unethical business practices. You'll be surprised to discover how suspenseful this film makes a leveraged buy out seem.

Rarely have I seen a film that so successfully balances a message with fantastic humor, great characters, and high suspense. The message, of course, is the unbridled greed of corporate America. Repeatedly, these characters plot and plan to make a boatload of the green stuff while everyone else suffers the consequences. Layoffs don't mean a thing to these people as long as they can fill their pockets. You should despise these people, and you will at times, but most of them possess endearing traits as well. Garner's depiction of Johnson steals the show in this respect. His witticisms, outbursts, and general grouchiness are hilarious to behold, with none other than the scene where he discovers the utter failure of his smokeless cigarette serving as proof of this assertion. "I need an extra set of lungs to take a drag of this thing" is the cleanest line I can mention from the exchange. Garner's just great, and the primary reason I have watched this film at least a dozen times since it came out in the early 1990s. His overpowering presence tends to overshadow the great performances put in by Jonathan Pryce, Jim Thompson, and Jeffrey DeMunn as one of Ross's underlings at Nabisco. David Rasche does a great job in the small but very funny role of Ted Forstmann, an investment banker seeking to carve out his own niche in Ross's deal.

I don't know what the problem is over at HBO, but they consistently release their films to DVD with few to no extras. At least "Barbarians at the Gate" comes with a widescreen picture transfer, something I can't say for several other HBO releases I have rented lately. If you love James Garner, or just adore films with a high entertainment value, you must check out this obscure little gem soon. Do it for no other reason than to blow raspberries at that darned Boomer immorality!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I'm a big fan of Garner from way back, ever since he did "Support Your Local Sheriff," a low key but very funny spoof on western films from the early 70s, if I remember right. He seems like a down to earth guy whose big screen stardom never went to his head--much like Sean Connery--who certainly could have let such fame, money and stardom go to his head, too.

This movie chronicles the shenanigans surrounding a leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. You wouldn't think a corporate buyout would be that interesting a subject for a movie, but the movie succeeds on Garner's witty, cynical, repeatedly exasperated, and humorous portrayal of the company's CEO, although the rest of the cast is good too. The movie is also a reminder of the unbridled greed that swept the country in the 80s as hostile takeovers became the rage on Wall St., and it didn't matter how many people lost their jobs or their retirements as long as the takeover sharks got their cut.

As a result of these changes, as my fellow Top 100 reviewer, Jeff Leach, said previously in his much more detailed review, it's a lot harder for the average American to get and hold a job, and make a decent wage. And real wages (which is wages adjusted for inflation) have been declining in the U.S. since the late 60s--another dire trend which is unfortunately likely to continue as a result of competition from India and China, and our increasingly extravagant deficit spending.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 1999
Garner is good, but Jonathan Pryce was great. Movie explains the financial aspects on such a basic level that anyone outside The Street will understand.
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