TIFF ‘19 Review: Merciless Economics Govern Marc Meyers’ “Human Capital”

“Don’t worry about it, I’m not going to stop spoiling you,” Quint (Peter Sarsgaard) tells his wife Carrie (Marisa Tomei) in “Human Capital,” after a downturn in his fortunes has led to reconsideration in an investment in an old movie palace that only weeks before was an impulse buy the couple would think nothing of. Yet Carrie has likely been spoiled too much, as has everyone in Marc Meyers’ adaptation of Stephen Amidon’s 2005 novel, which already served as the basis for the wicked 2013 Italian thriller from Paolo Virzi, resonates more as people only appear to continue to depreciate as a commodity in marketplace. With not a shred of sentimentality between them, but considerable feel for human nature, the film brings together the director of the insightful “My Friend Dahmer” with Oren Moverman, the writer behind “The Dinner” for a delicious drama that’s exactly as mercenary as it needs to be in showing true trickle-down economics in which hedge-fund managers such as Sarsgaard can lose a fortune, but it’s those on the bottom that will hurt the most.

Employing the same “Rashomon”-esque structure as the original, it takes a while to see Quint, as Drew (Liev Schrieber) knows all too well, using his daughter Shannon’s (Maya Hawke) relationship with his son Jamie (Fred Hechiger) as a way to get an audience with Quint. Drew can afford to send Shannon to the same private school as Quint’s kid, but has leveraged himself considerably to do so, making an investment in Quint‘s fund where a major return is all but assured a priority. An opening arises when Quint needs a tennis opponent after handily dispatching the help while Drew’s on the property, and while they may be equals on the court, Drew has to all but beg Quint to invest the bare minimum in the fund, then suffer further indignities scraping together the cash necessary. Of course, things only get worse from there – not only for Drew, but Quint as well and it pulls everyone in their orbit, including Drew’s wife Ronnie (Betty Gabriel) and Ian (a heartbreaking Alex Wolff), who Shannon befriends in the waiting room of her stepmother’s therapy practice, down, particularly when a fatal car wreck intertwines the families.

How low often depends on their previous station on the societal totem pole, and the genius inherent in the source material and channeled well here is how the wealthy inoculate themselves in lofty linguistic obfuscation while the less wealthy, both financially and educationally, are left defenseless against ramifications they can’t even fathom when disaster strikes. Meyers’ admirably unfussy direction and a fine cast all quite capable of radiating intelligence wring the most they can from Moverman’s juicy script about people’s ability to compartmentalize and rationalize amoral behavior – with some able to distance themselves by thinking “It’s only money” while that’s everything to others. “Human Capital” may show the worst in people, but in giving face to the green-eyed monster so vividly, it turns harsh economic realities into the stuff of great drama.

“Human Capital” will next screen at the Hamptons Film Festival on October 11th at 6:15 pm at the East Hampton UA1 and 12th at 5 pm at Southhampton SH1.

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