'The Audition': Busan Review

The Audition Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Venice Film Festival
It's a hotel ad, even if it is a well shot, funny, star-studded one.

Venice’s loss is Busan’s gain as Martin Scorsese wades into the advertising film arena for Crown Casinos.

As the line between art and advertising gets blurrier and blurrier, if it hasn’t already been erased, Martin Scorsese and his preferred leading men pick up where BMW Films left off for the allegedly $70 million ad feature, The Audition. After being scrapped from its Venice premiere due to "unexpected technical problems," the ad/film finally gets its unveiling, buried in a short film program at Busan. The 16-minute advertisement — and despite Venice director Alberto Barbera’s protestations, that’s what it is — for Australian hotelier James Packer’s Crown Casinos in Manila and Macau (Studio City) and, perhaps in a fantasy world, Tokyo, is a keenly self-aware pop culture nugget that’s probably on its way to becoming commonplace.

The spot opens with a signature Scorsese aerial swoop in and extended tracking shot one-two punch — however not set to anything from Exile on Main Street — as Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio (playing themselves, as does the entire cast) arrive at the Crown Manila, each under the impression that he’s there to read for a part in a new Scorsese film. The director himself arrives in the opulent lobby (captured in all its glittery glory by DOP Rodrigo Prieto) and before he knows it, he’s stuck in the middle of the actors’ professional rivalry, which carries on to their next stop in Macau. Finally, in Tokyo, Scorsese gives up, dumps them both, and goes running off to meet Brad Pitt at a noodle shop — who, it turns out, is a (fabulously) terrible actor.

The Audition works on the strength of its (surprise!) strong cast and an awareness that they’re all shilling for a casino chain. But Scorsese and his A-list cast pull it off with aplomb, having a good time at their own expense. When they’re not spouting the requisite, "We could hit the tables, grab dinner or go to the spa. Or all three," pitches demanded by head office, there’s some effortless banter between Scorsese’s first and current muse. After referring to "his director" to De Niro’s astonishment, DiCaprio gets to drop a pithy, "Let’s face it Bob, it’s been a while." De Niro’s perfectly timed and pitched reply is a petulant, "I don’t like your beard." Within this odd subgenre, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Powder Keg for BMW (also produced by RSA Films) has yet to be bested from an advertising or filmmaking perspective, but The Audition comes close.

Production company: RSA Films, Sikelia Productions

Cast: Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese, Brad Pitt

Director: Martin Scorsese

Screenwriter: Terence Winter

Producer: Brett Ratner, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Jules Daly

Executive producer: Lawrence Ho, James Packer

Director of photography: Rodrigo Prieto

Production designer: Mark Friedberg

Costume designer: Aude Bronson Howard

Editor: Kevin Tent

Casting director: Ellen Lewis

No rating, 16 minutes