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Human Capital

(After making it’s debut at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival, Marc Meyers’ Human Capital is available now on VOD via DirecTV Cinema. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

Marc Meyers (My Friend Dahmer) directs this non-linear, Rashomon-style morality play based on a 2004 novel by Stephen Amidon and adapted by Oren Moverman (The Messenger, I’m Not There). Led by a stellar ensemble cast, the story weaves together the lives of three families from disparate economic classes. While a mystery surrounding a deadly hit-and-run accident does the film a slight disservice, the performances are enough to give Human Capital a look on VOD.

Meyers is the second director to bring Amidon’s novel to the big screen, the first being Italian director, Paolo Virzì in 2015. The story opens on a waiter finishing up his workday. He asks for time off to have a date night for his wife’s birthday and hops on his bike to head home. This is all the time we have with him before he is struck by an SUV and left for dead on the side of the road. This accident becomes the centerpiece of the drama that unfolds between 3 families connected by their teenagers only to see the parents clash, both directly and indirectly, over economic disparity.

Liev Schreiber plays Drew, a moderately successful real estate agent who is married to a young therapist named Ronnie (Betty Gabriel, Get Out) and barely parents a teenage daughter from a previous marriage named Shannon (Maya Hawke, Stranger Things). Shannon is dating the son of the well-to-do Manning family. It takes Drew all of 5 minutes to tip his socially-inferior hand to the family’s patriarch, Quint (Peter Sarsgaard), a hedge fund manager with a one-track mind and a predatory spirit. Quint accepts Drew’s offer for a $300,000 investment even though they both know he can’t afford it. Quint can barely mask his contempt for anyone below his station – he makes $300k in an afternoon – while Drew must lie, cheat, and steal to scrape it together. Regardless, Quint is incapable of turning down money in any denomination. Throughout the story, he proves time and time again that the bottom line means more to him than anything, including his own family.

In the Manning household, Carrie (Marisa Tomei) is a B-movie actress-turned-dissatisfied silver spoon housewife who dreams of using her husband’s pocket change to turn a dilapidated historic building into an art center. Their son Jaime (Fred Hechinger, Eighth Grade), lives in fear of disappointing his father (which seems easy to do). Meanwhile, Shannon and Jaime amicably end their relationship but stay close. By happenstance, Shannon meets Ian (Alex Wolff, Hereditary) outside Ronnie’s office and they crash into each other’s arms the way only two teenagers lacking parental guidance can.

The film re-plays scenes from the perspectives of Drew, Carrie, and finally Shannon, whilst keeping the central whodunnit intact. Ultimately, I feel that keeping the identity of the hit-and-run driver a mystery detracts from the heavy-hitting character work of the performers. It’s also a shame that we never learn more about Ronnie, who has the best biting commentary about the selfishness of hedge fund managers, or about the waiter, who is the most disenfranchised of the lot. We know he’s a hardworking family man. We know that getting a babysitter for a night out is a huge deal for him. We know he can’t afford a car. But the fact that we never go back to him makes it feel like he is, in fact, expendable.

Kat Westergaard’s cinematography is seamless. Her close-ups give the captivating performers room to breathe through their scenes whilst catching every telling eyebrow furrow and mouth twitch. In contrast, the Marcelo Zarvos score is a little too noticeable, and occasionally betrays some of the plot developments, particularly when Sarsgaard is on screen (as if his mere presence weren’t spoiler enough that he’s a wolf in business casual).

That said, I wouldn’t call Quint a caricature. Wall Street guys have proven time and time again that they are Ayn Randian clichés who don’t give a shit about anything but their assets. His platitudes about measures of success are accurate representations of the capitalist mindset.

There are some valuable messages in Human Capital. Quint can only describe hedge funds in shady terms (“moving invisible money to invisible markets at invisible speeds”) because hedge funds are inherently shady. Quint is always smirkingly apologizing for his boot-straps capitalist lawyer because he not-so-secretly agrees with everything he’s saying. The only people truly struggling with the morality of the situation are the youths. The kids have to get used to cleaning up the messes, because the older folks sure are leaving a big one. Shannon, Ian, and Jaime might all hail from different economic classes but they have one thing in common: their parents are assholes. Ronnie is the one adult glimmer of hope, as she guides the younger generation through the Boomer mess, and hopes to add another couple of social justice warriors to the battle.

– Jessica Baxter (@tehBaxter)

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