Human Capital

Quint and Drew face off

First-world and real-world problems collide in Human Capital, which started life as an American novel, became an Italian movie (Il capitale umano) in 2013 and then returned to the US in 2019 for this English-language version. How best to describe all three? Bonfire of the Vanities meets The Ice Storm will about do it. In other words a broad spectrum portrait of modern life, with a narrow focus critique of the elite at its core.

It starts, as Bonfire of the Vanities did, with a car accident, and then plays and replays the story from the point of view of each of the characters involved. Not the same events, exactly, but a “how did we get here?” summary.

First, the accident, a waiter cycling home after a hard shift is clipped by a speeding Jeep and goes flying into a thicket. Is the waiter dead? Who was driving the car? The film returns to these questions as its focus moves between the characters involved.

What a cast. Liev Schreiber as Drew Hagel, a try-hard real estate broker and ex gambler with a new wife, Ronnie (Betty Gabriel) now expecting twins, who borrows money he doesn’t have to place a stake with the hedge fund of big swinging Quint Manning (Peter Sarsgaard), his daughter’s boyfriend’s father. Without that family connection Quint wouldn’t even have given Drew the time of day, a fact the supercilious Quint doesn’t fail to make abundantly clear.

Quint’s wife, Carrie (Marisa Tomei), is the sort of pampered creature who needs a project and so she buys – or gets her husband to buy it for her – a rundown movie theatre. Drew’s daughter, Shannon (Maya Hawke), perma-pissed off with dad, about to leave home for good, dallying with Quint’s son Jamie (Fred Hechinger) possibly because he’s loaded, possibly because she believes him to be gay and therefore easy to deal with. Off to the side is Ian (Alex Wolff), a troubled teenage client of shrink Ronnie, who catches Shannon’s eye. See The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield for further details.

Maya Hawke as Shannon
Maya Hawke as Shannon


That’s the neatly dovetailing roster of potential hit-and-runners. Really, though, this film plays out through the eyes of Drew (suffering as the “dead cert” bet goes wrong), Carrie (distraught over the power asymmetry of her relationship with Quint) and Shannon (fearful that the relationship she wants with Ian won’t happen). Sweaty, tearful and moist respectively.

There are no bad performances in this film but the leads are particularly good, especially Hawke (daughter of Ethan and Uma Thurman), who has the extra challenge of playing a character in flux and does it well and with a breezy light touch. Oren Moverman wrote the screenplay and has an ear for the different ways the characters talk, while keeping everything inside a ballsy, recognisably Mametian universe.

A screen version of the Great American Novel is the intention, and Human Capital is happy to sit right in the middle of that tradition, making no mistakes but taking no big gambles. Unusually, and unsettlingly, Quint Manning is not the bad guy. He’s just a rich asshole being a rich asshole. None better than Sarsgaard at playing this level of entitlement. The fool, the one who gets his comeuppance, is Drew, rewarded for the biblical sin of covetousness.

When fate comes swinging at you, make sure you’re ready and not over-exposed. Which is a hard sell for anyone watching who’s mortgaged to the hilt, or scraping by month to month. At the other end of the telescope, meanwhile, the question has to be asked: whose story is this? Drew’s, my little precis would seem to suggest, but Moverman and director Marc Meyers seem to want to spend more time with Shannon, leaving Liev Schreiber and this potentially fascinating drama slightly hanging in the wind.



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© Steve Morrissey 2022









The Omen

Amy Huck as the nanny obeying Damien's orders in The Omen

 

 

 

Thirty years on, a pointless remake of the film that put quite a few bums on seats in 1976. Back then Gregory Peck was playing the American diplomat slowly realising he’s bringing up the spawn of Satan, and Lee Remick (an expert in lip-tightening panic) was the wife. This time Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles have the dubious honour. In spite of the disaster movie craze and the example of the late career of Bette Davis, it was still quite unusual in the mid-1970s for a big star like Peck to appear in a horror movie – genre was for wimps. But the studios were realising that the likes of Jaws were changing everything, and Fox had been caught out badly by the success Warners had had with The Exorcist. The Omen was their attempt to cash in.
Fox are obviously hoping to cash in again in this era of remakes – Psycho, Texas Chainsaw, Dawn of the Dead and so on. This Omen is relatively faithful to the original in terms of plot – the son of Satan is hoping to bring about Armageddon by becoming president of the USA, thus fulfilling some prophesy in the Book of Revelation, or something – things do get a bit garbled at this point. But The Omen’s big problem is that this style of horror movie just doesn’t work any more – the Catholic church these days looks more like a global brand than a repository of ancient Satan-busting wisdom. What’s more, director John Moore just doesn’t have the understanding of pace that Richard Donner (who directed in 1976) had. But the support cast keeps interest fairly high – Pete Postlethwaite as the urgent priest, David Thewlis as a paparazzo whose photos also provide an urgent warning, Michael Gambon as an urgent demonologist. Plus, rubs hands with glee, Mia Farrow as the child’s satanic nanny. And why not, Rosemary’s Baby was the first Omen’s obvious rip-off point.
© Steve Morrissey 2006

 

The Exorcist – at Amazon