Editor’s Note: Capital is now open in limited release
Capital, the new film from Costa-Gavras, who won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for Z in 1969, is all a load of bollocks. Which isn’t, incidentally, to say it’s a bad movie: it’s not so much balls itself as it is, essentially, about them, and the primal masculine tendencies for which they’re so often taken as shorthand. From the opening scene, where the aged CEO of a French investment bank collapses on a golf course due to—we soon learn—testicular cancer, the movie’s tale of capitalistic ascent is obsessed with the ideas of virility and vitality, and the scary truth of how enormous international financial institutions and the economies they serve boil down, in the end, to little more than balls.
The point, to finally reach it: to address this issue, let alone so directly, requires a kind of insight and analysis that Capital just doesn’t have.
Which isn’t an unfair assessment, in its own right; trawling through the legions of films that have directly or indirectly addressed the fallout of the financial crisis, there’s no more prominent figure than the put-upon family man. Appearing across the board from country to country, genre to genre, the struggling patriarchs of Kill List, Win Win, Take Shelter, Tokyo Sonata, The Company Men and so many more have flooded the market with filmic embodiments of the provider—the man, the money, the system itself—at an instance of extraordinary emasculation. The point, to finally reach it: to address this issue, let alone so directly, requires a kind of insight and analysis that Capital just doesn’t have.
What it does have, at least, is a fast-paced fervour that manages to turn the sight of people sat in rooms talking about money into something much more thrilling. It’s not immediately apparent from the briskness of the movie that its director is in his eighties; like the investment bank it centres on in the wake of its CEO’s collapse, Capital lunges forward with the erratic energy of new young blood. That comes, within the narrative, from the ruthless Marc, played with curt charisma by Gad Elmaleh. His willingness to do whatever he must to survive is at once the driving engine of the story and the bulk of its critique, which largely amounts to looking on and lamenting how callous these characters are.
As his absolute power corrupts absolutely, driving him to a dizzy frenzy that might be mistaken as the consequence of Absolut instead, perhaps we might understand—if not exactly appreciate—the innate inadequacies of the system’s foundations that make this kind of outcome inevitable.
If Gavras’ cultural commentary is a little lacking in substance, it’s at least bolstered by the kind of campy charm that emanates from the sheer extent of that callousness. Take Gabriel Byrne, who appears intermittently—mostly via video call—to bark orders in an accent that tours the world from word to word. Much like the moment in which Marc meets an uncle’s teary-eyed inquisition as to his inhumanity—“How do you cope?”—with only a smirk, these are instances of pantomime villainy that make the movie at once less credible and yet more fun. It’s at its best, then, when abandoning the semblance of realism altogether and indulging in fantasy sequences, none better than when Marc reaches into a monitor to beat his boss to a bloody pulp.
It’s evident from the outset, where the stage is set by Marc’s open address to the audience, that Gavras’ wants us in some respect to identify with this character. As his absolute power corrupts absolutely, driving him to a dizzy frenzy that might be mistaken as the consequence of Absolut instead, perhaps we might understand—if not exactly appreciate—the innate inadequacies of the system’s foundations that make this kind of outcome inevitable. Alas, however energetic, it’s a tedious point to hammer home for two hours, and between its more manic moments of out-there oddity, Capital has much less to say than it might like us to think. “It takes brass balls,” as Alec Baldwin famously said in Glengarry Glen Ross, one of the best movies about money and men. It’s clear that Gavras has got them, he just never seems quite sure where to swing.
[notification type=”star”]57/100 ~ MEDIOCRE. Between its more manic moments of out-there oddity, Capital has much less to say than it might like us to think.[/notification]