Runtime 110 minutes.
OK for children.
Director Costa-Gavras (short for Constantine) is a talented director of thrillers who knows how to create and maintain tension. His films are almost always politically motivated, and left-leaning. His father, active in the Greek Resistance, was imprisoned after World War II as a suspected Communist. As a result, Gavras was not able to attend university in Greece or to emigrate to America, nor could he get a visa to attend an American film school.
Undeterred, he became a world-famous director. His magnum opus, Z (1969), was a vicious attack on the conservative Greek government through a fictionalized account of the events surrounding the assassination of leftwing Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963.
Nobody should think they are going into this film to see an even-handed treatment of the West’s capitalist societies. Adding to Costa-Gavras’ leftwing credentials, the script (Gavras, Karim Boukercha, and Jean Claude Grumberg) is based on the novel, Le Capital, by Stéphane Osmont, who is a former Trotskyite (Leon Trotsky was an equal partner with Vladimir Lenin in the 1917 Communist counter Revolution in Russia. When the brute Stalin took over, Trotsky fled to Mexico where he was finally assassinated with an ice pick by Stalin henchmen in 1940). Osmont apparently has less love for capitalism than does Costa-Gavras.
Here they attack the capitalistic worldwide banking system. Cast against type, popular French comic Gad Elmaleh plays a very serious Marc Tourneuil, a rising young executive who takes over a major French bank, bypassing many older senior executives. He finds himself the victim of a Machiavellian plot to take over the bank and oust him, headed by Dittmar Rigule (Gabriel Byrne).
Elmaleh gives a terrific performance as the young Chief Executive. He reminded me of several that I knew when I was a corporate attorney. Costa-Gavras portrays the perks that go along with the position brilliantly. That is one of the best things about this movie.
Also shining in supporting roles are Celine Sallette as Maud Baron, a young analyst of whom Marc becomes enamored, who gives a wonderfully understated performance, and Natacha Regnier, as Marc’s wife, Diane, who doesn’t want Marc to lose his humanity to capitalism.
In the press notes Costa-Gavras portrays his ignorance of how things work in a free enterprise society, not unusual among leftists, blaming the evil banking system for the sub-prime mortgage fiasco that almost caused the collapse of the Western economic system in 2008. In fact, the banks were forced into offering these sub-prime mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them by Republican and Democrat administrations who forced them into it, allowing people to buy homes who couldn’t afford them. That’s the movie he should have made, one about feckless politicians who answer to nobody, mess up the economy, and then point fingers at the very people they forced to do their bidding. Costa-Gavras has some feckless politicians in the film, but they aren’t the real bad guys.
There are some lame scenes and characters. Marc becomes infatuated with Nassim (Liva Kebede), a mysterious woman he barely knows, and commits indiscretions that are hard to accept given the setup of the film and the makeup of his character. The final speech Marc makes, and the standing ovation he gets from his board of directors, are beyond naïve; they are downright silly.
But that’s not to say that some of the criticisms leveled by Costa-Gavras and Osmont are not valid. There is a lot of corruption in capitalism and it’s gratifying to have it attacked by a talented film maker. I just wish that he had used more subtlety and discretion in the ending of the movie instead of hitting his audience over the head with a misplaced hand grenade.