Set in the boardroom and back offices of a giant French investment bank, “Capital” is sort of a thriller and sort of a satire, and less than entirely satisfying as either. Directed by Costa-Gavras, the great Greek-French filmmaker known for such political dramas as “Z” and “Missing,” the movie centers on Marc Tourneuil (Gad Elmaleh), an ambitious-to-the-point-of-arrogant flunky who finds himself promoted, somewhat improbably, to chief executive when his boss (Daniel Mesguich) collapses on the golf course from, even more improbably, testicular cancer.
I suppose that’s a metaphor of some sort, given the machismo of the film’s characters. With few exceptions — Marc’s wife (Natacha Régnier), his former boss’s daughter (Olga Grumberg), a do-gooder colleague (Céline Sallette) and a lusty supermodel (Liya Kebede) — the cast is pretty much a boys club, featuring a lot of alpha-male maneuvering and chest thumping.
The chief perpetrator of this is not Marc but a villainous Anglo-Irish hedge fund manager based in Miami who has the almost comically implausible name of Dittmar Rigule. Played by Gabriel Byrne, Dittmar spends much of the film telling Marc what to do, having bought a controlling interest in Marc’s bank. Some of his suggestions — such as laying off 10,000 employees — aren’t ethical, let alone legal. A lot of them involve yelling, via international teleconference, from a flat-screen television.
When Marc, who spends part of the film indulging his imagination in Walter Mittyesque fantasy sequences, grabs Dittmar’s head out of the TV screen and starts smashing it to a bloody pulp against the desk, you’ll understand why.
The film is structured more or less as a morality play. Although Marc is a jerk, the film hints from time to time that he’s not irredeemably evil (though it’s frankly hard to buy that when we watch him sexually assault the supermodel in the back of a limo). His colleague Maud — the film’s real moral center — tries to get Marc, a former teacher, to redeem himself by going back to academia and writing an exposé of greed and power in the financial industry.
Don’t get your hopes up.
Adapted by Costa-Gavras, Jean-Claude Grumberg and Karim Boukercha from former financial insider Stéphane Osmont’s 2004 novel, “Capital” is too cynical to ever really suggest that redemption is possible. Not that anyone watching will even care. Unlike the far superior “Margin Call,” which was ultimately more humanizing than demonizing of investment bankers, “Capital” never really allows us inside Marc’s head or heart.
What does Marc Tourneuil want? That question gets asked twice in “Capital,” once at the beginning and once at the end. The first time, Marc answers “money,” explaining that financial success is merely a vehicle to bring him what he really wants, which is respect.
Oh really? Late in the film, Marc’s wife gives him an ultimatum: If you go to jail, she says, as the result of exposing corruption in the world of high finance, I’ll wait for you to get out. But if you stay on as CEO, I’m leaving.
The problem is, by this point Marc is such an unlikable enigma that a lot of viewers will, figuratively speaking, already have walked out.
Unrated. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains crude language, sex, drug use and brief violence. In French and English with subtitles.