Alternate Title: Le Capital
They wanted someone they could easily control as the new CEO but instead of a typical puppet, the board of directors at a prominent French investment bank wound up with a lying Pinocchio-like puppet-master (comic actor Gad Elmaleh playing it straight) who desires to break free of his marionette strings and puppeteers.
With not only the French board hoping to call the shots made by Elmaleh’s Marc but also a group of American hedge fund “cowboy capitalists” (led by Gabriel Byrne) longing to do the same, the puppet quickly cuts the strings and plots to get even.
In one of several manipulative deals, negotiations and ventures, Marc threatens to fashion a financial noose he won’t hesitate to put around the neck of anyone who tests him.
As such, he takes his wrath out on anyone and everyone from his long-suffering wife who hadn’t wanted to wear a $22 thousand couture dress (until Marc guilts her into submission) or the 10,000 jobs he doesn’t hesitate to cut – axing the regular worker bees in a backroom move mere moments after giving a bravura, rousing video conference in which Marc championed their role.
And in his first true dramatic test, Elmaleh does a hell of a job playing a ruthless bastard cut from the same cloth of Wall Street’s Gordon Gecko. Likewise, Elmaleh’s Marc becomes that much grander when viewed through the lens of the Oscar winning filmmaker Costa-Gavras.
The director’s signature, stagy flourishes abound but his utilization of fantastical elements from soliloquies to dream sequences lose the film's briskly paced urgency and feel wrong for the just-the-facts efficient speed of their “time is money” environment.
Furthermore, one of Capital’s biggest problems is that (despite the unorthodox techniques) thematically and topically we’re not being told anything we haven’t seen and heard onscreen before. Inundated as of late with several films about the perils of capitalism run amok in both fiction and nonfiction features that entertain on a blockbuster level, 2012’s Capital is a few years too late to the party.
From both the fiction feature and documentary versions of Casino Jack to 2011's crisp Margin Call or the Enron documentary to Capitalism: A Love Story years earlier, in this country (at least) we’ve been bombarded with tales of big screen economic woe with a collection of films that have far more sympathetic characters than the ones in Le Capital.
A cold world with cold people, Capital plays at times like an overlong, humorless foreign episode of Netflix’s original series House of Cards. Yet without Kevin Spacey’s tongue-in-cheek line reads or knowing winks at the audience or his against all odds charm despite some pretty horrific deeds – it’s a hard movie to get behind as our main character sinks into greater depths of ego-driven amorality and depravity.
Essentially raping a supermodel whom he felt had been fleecing him for money (but was just about to pay him back) and predictably choosing wealth, power and position over love and loyalty by the film’s final moments, Le Capital may be much more open about its main character’s misogyny than Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, but in the end, Martin Scorsese’s misguided epic still has much more to say.
Superlative production values help elevate the eye-candy of Marc’s luxury-driven lifestyle but unfortunately its surface level beauty prevents the film’s obvious “greed is evil” message from fully sinking in on the same level as Stone’s Wall Street or House of Cards episode director James Foley’s understated Glengarry Glen Ross.
Though it’s a capable, classy yet ultimately chilly adaptation of the Stephane Osmont novel, in this information age of recession when we’re inundated with similar stories about those who take the money and run on the nightly news, we need a new twist in our features.
Instead of centering a film around a CEO playing Robin Hood who steals from the poor and gives to the rich, it might be time for a different type of narrative. For example, it would be much more relatable to see a tale from the point-of-view of one of the 10,000 worker bees who – now laid off and a victim of cowboy capitalism – decide to stop being a puppet and get revenge not by workplace violence but by playing Robin Hood for real.
Yes, it’s wish-fulfillment cinema in a time when Death of a Salesman has become timelier than ever but it’ll also help get the message across better by giving viewers someone with whom we can identify instead of more of the same manipulated puppets or lying Pinocchios or privilege and power.
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