Film Review: 'Capital' presents soul-crushing portrait of CEO life


poster artLet’s face it, it’s hard to sympathize with anyone inhabiting the world of the one-percenter. It’s no surprise then that legendary filmmaker Costa-Gavras gleefully jumps in and paints a rather cartoonish portrait of high-level managers jockeying for position at a fictitious bank called Phenix. Blending both a morbid sense of humor with a rather bleak outlook, Costa-Gavras has adapted Stéphane Osmont’s Le Capital to plumb the icy depths of greed and how it corrupts all levels of humanity.

Marc Tourneuil (Gad Elmaleh tearing into the role with steely restraint) is an ambitious cad who, from the start, is ready to sink his teeth into his impending role as interim CEO at Phenix after the current CEO keels over on a golf course, grabbing his crotch. Marc dives into his new position with reptilian cool as if he has played out this role a million times over in his head. But all the preparation in the world cannot seem to ready him for the degree personal compromise ahead, as infinite temptations seem to arise before him. Meanwhile, there are always predators from inside and out who want to take what he has.

It’s hard to feel anything for these people. They battle to double their million-dollar-plus salaries while looking at numbers that foretell lay-offs (their preferred term is “staff adjustments”) in the thousands. The mostly male characters float about various metaphors for money molded to fit their place in life. IMG_1528-kebede-elmaleh-1024x682Ultimately, a phrase like “money is a dog” becomes “money is the master.” There’s drama with a supermodel (real-life model Liya Kebede) who Marc treats as a high-priced call girl. That relationship ends with a sickening, brutal scene that does little to redeem Marc.

Not that Costa-Gavras has any agenda to humanize these people. The film is tautly-paced and painted with a shimmering, almost surreal color-palette. Though it relies on a lot of talking action, the film feels action-packed, nevertheless. It’s not so much about character, as it is about their actions. These are less people than money-hungry vessels. Even Marc, the film’s main protagonist, feels less than human despite a few fantasy sequences that expose his vulnerable side. But these are brief, internal moments that have little influence on the plot. In “reality” he’s a calculating creature that ultimately feels hard to relate with. This gives the film a satirical sensibility that may let down those looking for something more profound.


Last year, David Cronenberg unleashed Cosmopolis, also adapted from a book, a film that examined the corrupting power of seeming limitless wealth with even cooler iciness as it teetered toward the edge of humanity (Read my review: ‘Cosmopolis’ offers indictment of capitalism through an accomplice’s eyes – a film review). Cronenberg’s take on Don Delillo’s 2003 book stands as the stronger movie examination of such characters. The oft-unfairly maligned Robert Pattinson did a stirring job as a similarly cold and distant character accumulating wealth via algorithms who looks back toward a more innocent self to find his humanity and then engage in a brilliant tête-à-tête with one of those he stepped upon on his rise to power (a marvelous Paul Giamatti).

It’s not easy to make these kinds of characters compelling. Costa-Gavras does not pretend to try to humanize them. This is about the corporation as man-eating entity. The management are its tools. The problem is, as one hedge fund manager (Gabriel Byrne) notes, they think money is a tool, but it is actually the master. It’s all about maneuvering for capital, which equals power and then watching the company cope and settle to enjoy its greediness. Humanity is only collateral, and Costa-Gavras knows how to show that.

Hans Morgenstern

Capital is Rated R (for language, sex, violence … and greed), is in English and French with English Subtitles and runs 119 minutes. It is distributed by Cohen Media who provided a preview screener for the purposes of this review. It opens Friday, Nov. 1 in my area of South Florida at the following theaters:

Koubek — Miami, FL
Bill Cosford Cinema — Coral Gables, FL
Frank Sunrise — Fort Lauderdale, FL
Living Room Theaters – Boca Raton, FL
Regal Delray Beach 18 — Delray Beach, FL
Regal Shadowood 16 — Boca Raton, FL

It opened in New York City on Oct. 25 and may also be playing at a theater near you, if you live outside of South Florida.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)


  1. Great review. Yes, Greed is God in this world. The inhabitants live from quarter to quarter, performing to the gallery of stakeholders. One of the key lessons we learnt from the 2008 meltdown is the need to bring in business leaders who use a moral compass as well.

    • Absolutely! This presents a very hopeless picture because these upper-class earners only seem to be able to continue to get away with murder in hogging the money as time goes on.

    • There’s definitely a sense of that, but not to “humans all over.” The people depicted in this film are definitely a certain type of person. There is, as I note, a cartoonish tone to their portrait, so expect it to feel like a hyper-reality, and it does get rather grotesque (so, yes, quite cold). But, yes, sociopathic is a good term because they do seem to check their empathy at the door of the boardroom.


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