Since they figured out how make pictures move, filmmakers have long been fond of using one of the seven deadly sins—greed—as the thematic driving force of their films. From Erich Von Stronheim‘s compromised masterpiece “Greed” to the slimy dealings of Gordon Gecko in two “Wall Street” movies and beyond, there has been no shortage of characters corrupted by currency. But with the worldwide economy in a more precarious state than ever, and as the term “too big too fail” becomes a rich irony, never before has such subject matter carried so much dramatic potential. And yet despite recent solid entries like “Margin Call” and “Too Big To Fail,” we’re yet to see the first great contemporary movie about the country and the world’s economic woes. Unfortunately Costa-Gavras‘ “Le Capital” doesn’t remedy that situation.
Constructed partly from fiction and partly from fact—the film is based on the novel by Stéphane Osmont and the essay “Total Capitalism” by former Credit Lyonnais president Jean Peyrelevade—the story is straightforward enough: after proving invaluable to his boss who has since fallen ill, Marc Tourneuil (comic actor Gad Elmaleh, playing it straight) is suddenly ushered into the CEO role at Phoenix Bank, based in France. While the rest of the board thinks they’ll be able to play puppetmaster with the untested and young leader, he quickly forges his own path. Tourneuil turns out to have ambitions and schemes of his own, all with one goal in mind: earning as much money as possible.
Really, the film is about an amoral man who begins tip towards immoral with each grab for corporate and financial power, but it doesn’t deviate much from that single-minded path. Written by Costa-Gavras, Jean-Claude Grumberg and Karim Boukercha, the trio certainly try and infuse the story with some energy and depth, mostly be loading up scene after scene with dense dialogue, clearly beholden to the work of Aaron Sorkin. But where Sorkin’s wordplay is always geared toward a specific endgame, “Le Capital” becomes mired in the dull and sometimes confusing machinations of corporate maneuvers. It’s not the most dramatically thrilling stuff, particularly when the characters are merely blank pillars against which Costa-Gavras tells his tale of corroded ethics. And it could have worked, if the movie had anything new to say about the shady world of shady financial dealings run by shady people. But it’s mostly the same observations about absolute power corrupting absolutely we’ve seen time and time again.
Elmaleh is fine in this dramatic lead role, but he also isn’t given much to do other than wear one stony face for the most of the picture, while navigate an improbable wild (kind of one-sided) romance with a supermodel (gasp! he’s married!), that is clear from the first moment is duplicitous, and pays off exactly (if a bit more uncomfortably and unbelievably) as you might expect. The only other name actor in the cast is Gabriel Byrne who looks ill-suited and out of place, clearly uneasy in scenes as the lone American while the the rest of the cast parcels out chunks of the script in a rapid fire French. But, at the end of the day, he ultimately does what he’s supposed to, playing the Scumbag Lying American, with decent enough results. And a special mention must be given to Céline Sallette, who plays the lone character of decent moral standing, a Phoenix employee specializing in Asian markets, who brings more humanity to her brief role than the rest of the picture can muster.
Picking one sustained tone and then putting it on a loop, for Costa-Gavras fans expecting the next “Z” or “Missing,” this isn’t it. While the anger and dismay at the people running our banks is palpable, and the despicable actions they undertake in the name of profit over people familiar, the film adds nothing to a conversation that has been going no for years. “Le Capital” reconfirms that yes, the system is deeply unfair and highly manipulated, but that point has already been made more than once, so where do we go next? “Le Capital,” perhaps like many of us, isn’t quite sure and for now is content to simply point the finger at whose to blame. [C]