Film Review: Capital

Fast-paced drama about two antagonistic masters of the financial universe scheming over the fate of an international bank is another sad study of how power, greed, ego, lust and no iota of decency drive the economy and leave the rest of us sweating the

Oscar-winning Costa-Gavras, with so many international, critically acclaimed hits behind him (Z, State of Siege, Missing and The Confession among them), has always displayed an interest in sociopolitical matters. Lately, the lamentable state of the economy—its perps and victims—has captured his attention. The Axe, his brilliant and scorching take on downsizing, never got domestic distribution (no doubt another victim of the economic fallout), but now Capital carries on the fight.

France’s comedic star Gad Elmaleh and Gabriel Byrne, as all-too-serious high-finance supermen on opposing sides of a high-stakes game, should enhance the want-to-see for quality-seeking filmgoers, especially fans of Wall Street, Margin Call and Arbitrage. With its focus on men after money, Capital only suggests the hopeless gerbil cage holding the 99% who can only spin wheels as the few outside go about their big business.

All begins beautifully for ambitious young banker Marc Tourneuil (Elmaleh) when he is approved as new CEO of France-based European bank Phenix. The bank’s old-line three-member board think they have someone under their control. They will be proven painfully wrong, but there’s pain for others too.

Hardly the puppet they wanted, Marc is fiercely ambitious, smart, ruthless. The adversary who puts him to the test in a the high-finance global game to come is slippery English-speaking hedge-fund honcho Dittmar Rigule (Byrne), who owns a big shareholder’s bloc in Phenix and schemes for an Icahn-like predator’s takeover.

In the Shakespearean battle between Marc and Dittmar, expected dramas, complications and crises come into play in their cold world of anything-for-profits: insider fights, furious takeover attempts like that involving a big Japanese bank, shocking stock gyrations, briberies involving private jets and yachts, sexy women, drugs, a mammoth downsizing, and more.

Rigule manipulates Marc with splashy Florida yacht trips and a beautiful black and mysterious seductive piece of work named Nassim (actress/model Liya Kebede), with her own money and drug problems. Marc’s clearly good with figures and caves to a nice one.

There are many tangled doings and undoings as Marc intimates like wife Diane (Natacha Régnier) and loyal assistant Raphaël (Hippolyte Girardot) face collateral damage. Workaholic Asian finance expert and writer Maud Baron (Céline Sallette), maybe Marc’s new ally, tries some damage control. Also on the chessboard is aging financial shark Antoine de Suze (Bernard Le Coq), circling the crises for opportunities.

Capital does warm up with some nice left-leaning relief when Marc returns home to the provinces for dinner with his extended family, all decent, simple folk.

The film may not be as elegant as the previous financial procedurals, and Costa-Gavras’ brief forays into cinematic trickery threaten our suspension of disbelief. Maybe the complex plot is the message here, illustrating the opacity that allows these guys to get away with so much. What Capital does make clear is that the time is ripe for a film suggesting solutions to the crimes and excesses of these high-finance bandits and the system that enables them. For now, it looks like sci-fi or fantasy would be the only way to go.