Producers: Celine Rattray. Trudie Styler, Oren Moverman, Bert Marcus, Matthew Stillman and Liev Schreiber Director: Marc Meyers Screenplay: Oren Moverman Cast: Liev Schreiber, Marisa Tomei, Peter Sarsgaard, Maya Hawke, Alex Wolff, Betty Gabriel, Paul Sparks and Assif Mandvi Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
As is true of most duplicates, Marc Meyers’ English-language remake of Paolo Virzi’s 2014 Italian drama is inferior to the original. It boasts a good cast, but is hobbled by problems of structure and logic. While it might hold one’s attention, the slow-moving multi-family soap opera is disappointing in the end.
Ultimately deriving from a novel by Stephen Amidon—and, presumably the Italian script by Virzi and his collaborators (though it returns the setting to the U.S.)—the script by Oren Moverman (who previously made a hash of his English-language version of Herman Koch’s similarly fraught novel of inter-familial tension, 2017’s “The Dinner”)—the plot is basically a whodunit with overtones of social commentary.
On one hand is the Manning clan: Quint (Peter Sarsgaard, slick as always), a snobbish, wealthy hedge-fund manager, his artistically-inclined wife Carrie (Marisa Tomei, playing barely content), and their preppy son Jamie (Fred Hechinger). On the other there’s Drew Hagel (Liev Schreiber, doing his schlub routine), a struggling real-estate agent. Shannon (Maya Hawke), his daughter by his first marriage, is Jamie’s classmate and girlfriend, and he’s now married to Ronnie (Betty Gabriel, woefully underused), a psychologist.
When Drew drops off Shannon at the posh, modern Manning homestead one day, Quint invites him to join in a tennis match with his lawyer Godeep (a perfectly wily Asif Mandvi), and impressed by his skill, makes him a regular. Drew therefore takes the opportunity to ask Quint to let him invest in his highly-successful fund. Quint reluctantly agrees to accept his $300,000, though unbeknownst to him—and to Drew’s friendly banker—Hagel lies on his loan application to get the cash to cover the investment, expecting a quick return. Of course, the market turns, and turns badly—a real problem for Drew, especially after Ronnie announces she’s pregnant.
While that’s happening, another crisis is unfolding, one related to the opening scene showing a hit-and-run involving a bicyclist and an SUV on a remote road. We eventually learn that the victim was a waiter who served the Hagel and Manning families at a school dinner where Jamie was expected, especially by Quint, to win a prestigious award but didn’t. The kid went off to a party where he got hammered, and was rescued by Shannon, who. It was Jamie’s vehicle that hit the cyclist, who later died of his injuries. But who was driving?
And that’s not all. Carrie has persuaded Quint to fund the renovation of an old theatre through his Foundation; she intends it to be the home for local arts events, and host her dream drama company. His fund’s collapse dooms that project as much as Drew’s hope for an immediate reward, but not before Carrie’s begun an affair with Jon (Paul Sparks), the local professor she’s chosen to be its artistic director.
There’s a further wrinkle in the mix. By the night of the party, Shannon and Jamie have broken up—amicably—and she’s taken up with Ian Warfield (Alex Wolff), a troubled lower-class kid who’s having therapy sessions with Ronnie after a run-in with the law over drugs.
As all this suggests, the scenario weaves an intricate web—some viewers will say too much so, with the constellation of relationships among the small coterie of characters more suitable to a book than a film. The division of the screenplay into chapters that repeat events from different perspectives and require us to integrate them until revealing how they link together further militates against full emotional involvement, though the editing by Tariq Anwar and Alex Hall links everything up fairly smoothly.
Such hiccups were less noticeable in Virzi’s version, or perhaps they’ve just become more so in the retelling. A more serious problem is that though the story is a commentary on socio-economic class differences, Moverman’s treatment of that aspect of the narrative is given in short-hand. The throwaway treatment of the actual victim—the waiter—is especially troublesome; the title points to how the value of any particular human life is calculated, but there’s little to no consideration of the value of his, merely on how his death might affect those on higher levels of the economic ladder.
“Human Capital” is handsomely made, not only in terms of its casting but its technical aspects. Mary Lena Colston’s production design is fine, especially in the scenes involving the Mannings, and Kay Westergaard’s cinematography is excellent as well. In the end, though, this is another investment that, like Drew’s, doesn’t quite pan out.