It’s wonderful to see that, even at the age of 80, Costa-Gavras still retains his ability to shine a light on the greedy, corrupt sons-of-bitches who are mucking things up for everybody else.
The Greece-born, France-based filmmaker behind such populist, politicial films as Z and Missing goes inside the treacherous world of international banking for his latest film, Le Capital (just Capital this side of the pond). Our chief protagonist is Marc Tourneuil (Gad Elmaleh), a French executive who gets promoted to CEO of Paris’s fictional Phenix Bank and spends most of the movie mentally strategizing, figuring out how to stay one step ahead of everyone—bosses, underlings, groupies—who appears to be the slightest bit of a threat. And it’s a challenge Tourneuil readily accepts.
Snapping up the CEO gig after his boss (who hid a heavy case of testicular cancer) collapses on the golf course, Tourneuil launches a plan to be rich and powerful by silently sizing up everyone and shaking things up at the bank. Tourneuil knows that he got the gig because the board members see him as a pawn, a temporary stand-in until they get a true, vetted mouthpiece in the position. Nevertheless, he takes advantage of his time at the top. When the board tells him to make massive layoffs, he offers the bank’s worldwide employees the opportunity to air out their grievances towards their superiors via a confidential self-assessment. Of course, this makes the execs and managers quite aggravated, especially when he starts demanding resignations from them.
But our anti-hero also has to deal with Dittmar Rigule, a hedge-fund manager played by a blustery, blatantly sinister Gabriel Byrne, who’s organizing an American takeover by ordering Tourneuil to buy up a worthless Japanese bank so Phenix’s stock can plummet and he can get kicked to the curb. But, as it has already been established, Tourneuil’s got a few tricks up his sleeve.
Using Stéphane Osmont’s 2004 novel of the same name as source material, Costa-Gavras—who co-wrote the film with Karim Boukercha and veteran playwright Jean-Claude Grumberg—crafts a coolly-detached view of modern-day big business, the sort of global enterprise that could lead (and have led) to a worldwide financial collapse. But unlike Margin Call, which dared to give fully-rounded portrayals of banking insiders as it tackled the financial crisis, Capital is filled with predictably unrepentant men and women who crave the almighty dollar to the point where I was sure I’d hear one of them hum the O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money.”
Costa-Gavras certainly found an intriguing leading man in Elmaleh, with his ice-cold stare that may remind audiences of Steve McQueen at his most penetrating. (With his stone-faced demeanor, it may be surprising to know that Elmaleh is one of France’s top stand-up comics.) Gavras occasionally has Elmaleh address the camera, hipping the audience to the circus they’re witnessing and the clowns he’s got doing tricks for him. Yes, it does sound like what Kevin Spacey did on House of Cards. But at least Elmaleh doesn’t do it with a cockamamie Southern accent.
Elmaleh does go about portraying his character as the complicated bastard he is. A captain of industry who occasionally gets struck with pangs of altruism (he occasionally daydreams of screaming or bloodying the heads of his more money-hungry colleagues), with a loyal wife and a son he barely sees at home, Tourneuil wants to be smarter and more successful than his fellow barbarians at the gate but still aspires to be as decadent and demanding as they are. This is most exhibited when Tourneuil gets obsessed with Nassim, a party-girl supermodel (actual supermodel Liya Kebede). Even though he knows she’s playing him for a chump, as she constantly siphons him for money and gives him blueballs in different parts of the globe, he still strives to get close to her. He eventually gives her a vile, unsettling comeuppance that’ll most likely have you losing whatever sympathy you had for him. This is probably how Costa-Gavras wants it.
As the movie comes to a quasi-absurd close, the director hammers home what kind of man you’ve been watching. As smart and self-aware as Tourneuil is, he’s no different than the ruthless, ridiculous businessmen he’s been quietly waging war on. It may all be a game to him, but he’s a player just like the rest of them, and he’s starting to have second thoughts about what he’s won. In the soulless yet sophisticated world Costa-Gavras creates in Capital, these pathetic one-percenters are truly the bankrupt ones.