Now on HBO Max, Human capital needs a little help generating interest in watching it. Maybe it deserves it, or maybe not – we’ll get to that in a minute – but I’m here in the news business, so there you go: it’s a drama of the non-comedic variety. based on a novel by mid-size author Stephen Amidon, here adapted by Oren Moverman, Oscar nominated screenwriter for the mid-sized Iraq war film The messenger. The film features a slightly above-average cast, comprising vets Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard and Marisa Tomei, and a moderately sexy young actress from Hollywood royalty, Maya Hawke. I don’t mean to damn myself with light praise; they are all talented people. But does anyone have a strong urge to watch the movie? And having seen it, in which direction should I push you?
The essential: The scene: a chic restaurant, the kind with $ 300 bottles of wine and waiters in bow ties. One of the staff is a Spanish speaking man who asks a coworker to cover a shift for him so he can attend a family event, then rides a bike down a dark country road – maybe because that he is so underpaid as a restaurant worker that he cannot afford a car; we can only assume this to be true in a movie about American socioeconomic class struggle – where he is scarred by a Jeep. He lies crumpled in the ditch. The driver stops, stops, the muted stereo sound is heard inside the vehicle, then the accelerator is activated and the truck takes off. We’ll come back to this tonight, as it’s one of those movies that intertwines narratives and goes back over key moments to show them from different angles / perspectives and reveal important plot elements, because it’s capital. -P Deep compared to normal, boring, straightforward, linear storytelling.
Cut to Drew Hagel (Schreiber), driving his teenage daughter Shannon (Hawke) to her boyfriend’s house in a very average Subaru. The house is neo-palatial, with lots of sharp corners, and although we don’t see a very long fireplace, there must be one somewhere. The boyfriend is Jamie (Fred Hechinger), and of course his dad is called Quint (Sarsgaard), and of course Quint is a sneering Hedge Fund guy, so we automatically want to see him impaled on a spade. The mother is Carrie (Tomei), a woman with sad eyes, and when Drew, a middle-income man, walks around the estate instead of coming home like a normal person, he barely sees her hanging out together before ‘She leaves the house, briefly greets Drew and allows her driver to open the door of the Ranger Rover so that she can be taken away.
This is not the end of Drew’s spy adventure. He goes to the tennis court and meets Quint, who urges him to join him. Funny, Drew played in college and is pretty good despite the way he behaves, and that satisfies Quint, although it still seems like a snort to throw this commoner out of sight. Drew – a humble real estate broker, picking up the player and wife of a slightly younger woman, Ronnie (Betty Gabriel), who is not Shannon’s mother but wants to be a mother, which has been difficult – is soon faking a few papers and gets a loan so he can invest $ 300,000 in Quint’s fund. The real estate business isn’t that great right now, and did I mention Drew used to play? Well, the stock market is playing for Range Rover and tennis court owners. Should I also note that he and Quint are brokers except one of them is broke and on the way to being broke?
The story revolves around Carrie, who carries a lot of emotional weight. His mother has dementia and Quint, well, given the stereotypical hedge fund hedgehog, he’s not really a husband. She wants to buy and restore the city’s historic theater, long empty and in ruins, a project of passion for the idle rich, although her motives are genuine. But will that fit with all of Quint’s coverage and funding? We are also aware of Shannon’s thread, which reveals the nature of her relationship with Jamie, who, surprise surprise, feels a lot of pressure from her old man to be successful and possibly become a rich asshole as well. Her story soon draws in Ian (Alex Wolff), a troubled but sensitive young man, and explains why she was so elusive when Drew asked her where the hell she was all night. It all comes down to that night at the restaurant, and to the poor man on a bicycle, whose life hangs by a thread.
What movies will this remind you of? : I thought of Ang Lee The ice storm, and felt hot; then I thought of Paul Haggis crash, and the heat is gone.
Performances to watch: There was a time when Marisa Tomei was a punchline, but over the last decade and more she has had a habit of performing well regardless of the quality of the production: Wrestler, Lincoln’s lawyer, The King of Staten Island; Am I the only one who yearns for an MCU aunt may/ Solo vehicle Tomei? (Series or movie, whatever.) She’s no different in Human capital, although the movie is the least of all.
Memorable dialogue: This exchange – decontextualized to avoid spoilers – sort of sums up Human capital:
“I like you.”
“I don’t love you.”
“Say it again.”
Gender and skin: Brief female topless; a few moments of heavy breathing and / or caresses.
Our opinion : Human capital – this title: ugh – mixes all the elements of 21st century American tragedy in a saucepan and melts them into a crumbly, lightly flavored porridge. We have The Economy, the 1% against the rest of us, infidelity, an LGBTQ issue thrown like another kind of nut in the bowl of homemade Chex Mix, muted racism, mental illness, struggles parentage, the powerful scourge of indifference and, of course, of life and death. What, no room for a screed on the evils of smartphones and social networks? It’s not all uniquely American, but in this particular narrative soup the intention is clear. The directors of the film might insist that the work is character-driven, and he deludes it, but it’s not – there are the haves, have-nots, and have-nots, the latest of which is is a bicycle waiter dying somewhere in a hospital as a literary symbol heavily crafted to criticize the living crap of society.
The actors do what they can, but the writing fails them. Schreiber and Sarsgaard try to squeeze their charisma into Drew and Quint, but there’s not much room in their robotic characters. Tomei digs for a soul in Carrie, showing a touch of hardened and cynical bewilderment, and it works for a moment or two, but she’s little more than a sustained number to remind us that the rich can suffer too. Hawke at least has some leeway, but only because his character is a barely written bit of a plot. Hechinger has a note and a half to play; Wolff and Gabriel get even less. The more the film maneuvers to resolve its tearful, melodramatic, and painstakingly fabricated plot, the more it truly loses it. The best conclusion one can come to at the end is, well, I guess things have a way to work out? Or not?
Our call: TO JUMP. Human capital try to say something deep. He also tries to satisfactorily solve his plot. These things often seem incongruous – remember: real life is messy, real closure is a myth – but rarely more than in this movie.
Human capital debuts on HBO on July 8, 2021 at 8 p.m. ET.