Who doesn’t hate, at least a little bit, the high-flying wheeler-dealers who recently brought the world to the brink of economic collapse and were never held accountable? As you watch the Costa-Gavras financial thriller "Capital," it may rekindle some of the rage and fear people felt when the pillars trembled.
Opens today at Kahala 8
But "Capital" is not in the same league as "Margin Call" or "Arbitrage." Its indictment of capitalism is so shrill and one-note that it may just as easily set off fits of giggling, because its characters are so ridiculously evil. It doesn’t get sillier than a scene at a meeting where the chief executive proclaims, "I’m your Robin Hood — we’ll keep robbing the poor to give to the rich," and is answered with tumultuous cheering and stomping.
This is a movie in search of a tagline as succinct as "Greed is good," from "Wall Street." But the best it can come up with is "Money is the master," the motto of Dittmar Rigule (Gabriel Byrne), a reptilian hedge fund manager, based in Miami, whose fund has borrowed money to take over the fictional Phenix bank in France. Nothing less than a 20 percent annual yield can keep the bank afloat.
Dittmar is the movie’s only character to convey an enjoyment of the mischief he stirs up, not to mention a voluptuous appreciation for the perks of wealth. He slyly refers to the beauties lounging on his yacht as "the fauna."
"Capital" is narrated by Marc Tourneuil (Gad Elmaleh), Phenix’s fish-eyed interim leader, who is given the reins after its chief executive has a heart attack on a golf course.
Costa-Gavras, the left-leaning Greek-French director of "Z" and "Missing," would seem to be the ideal filmmaker for an anti-capitalist screed. But the movie, based on Stiphane Osmont’s 2004 novel of the same title, is stiff and didactic. Even the high life portrayed in the film seems pallid, as if the director were frozen in disgust.
Marc knows full well that his tenure at the top will be short-lived unless he takes drastic action, and he initiates thousands of layoffs that jack up the bank’s stock price while destroying livelihoods. Under pressure from Dittmar, he participates in an insider-trading scheme that involves selling the toxic assets of a Japanese bank.
The movie primly refuses to acknowledge that wealth and power can be fun.
Review by Stephen Holden