With “Human Capital” director Marc Myers takes a swing at Stephen Amidon’s 2004 novel which has already been adapted once by Italian filmmaker Paolo Virzi. Myers pulls a little bit from both in crafting a dense story full of interconnected storylines and shifting perspectives. Along with screenwriter Oren Moverman, Myers maneuvers us through this thorny morality tale with mostly positive results.
“Human Capital” starts at a fancy restaurant where a waiter (Dominic Colon) phones his wife during a smoke break. At closing time he clocks out, hops on his bicycle, and heads home. As he rides under the street lamps we hear the growing hum of a car engine. An SUV coming from behind clips his bike sending him hurdling into the ground. The vehicle stops for a second then speeds off into the night while the man lays unconscious.
Jump back a few days and we meet Drew (Liev Schreiber) dropping off his daughter Shannon (Maya Hawke) to see her boyfriend Jamie (Fred Hechinger). While there Drew meets the boy’s parents for the first time – the chilly, detached Carrie (Marisa Tomei) and her snotty financier husband Quint (Peter Sarsgaard). Drew, a down-on-his-luck realtor, smells an opportunity and persuades Quint to let him buy into a hot new hedge-fund. The problem is he doesn’t have the required initial investment of $300,000. With an almost blind assurance, Drew lies on his SEC forms and finagles a high-interest loan for what he considers to be a sure-thing. We know it’s not.
From there we rewind again, this time following the same timeline but from Carrie’s perspective. The once aspiring actress turned disenchanted trophy wife has relished her life of privilege but now finds herself desperate for some kind of fulfillment. And then the movie bounces back once more, this time following Shannon. Her angle reveals more about her relationship with Jamie while also introducing Ian (Alex Wolff), a troubled young man who captures Shannon’s eye.
All three story threads are woven together by the opening hit-and-run. At first things seem predictable and the culprit looks pretty obvious. But as the three stories intersect, new drops of information make it clear that things aren’t so cut-and-dry. Before long it festers into smug elites versus the modestly upper class while the true victim, a working class waiter, is almost forgotten and essentially relegated to being a plot device. Unfortunately it’s not just the characters who seem indifferent to the victim, but the film itself. You could argue that’s kind of the point, but it still leaves the movie feeling cold.
The undercooked ‘whodunit’ aspect aside, the story of “Human Capital” is pretty engaging in large part thanks to a stellar cast. In a rare leading role, the often underrated Schreiber is convincing at every turn. Sarsgaard is ideal playing an unscrupulous slime who sees people as capital that he can move around for his own self-benefit. Tomei does a good job with a character who’s boxed in by the script pretty early on. And Hawke (a “Stranger Things” breakout) is a natural – mopey, impulsive and unpredictable. And I haven’t mentioned the always good Betty Gabriel. She plays Drew’s second wife and easily the most sympathetic character outside of the hit-and-run victim.
It’s easy to see where “Human Capital” could have done more with the class disparity theme. Then again countless movies have been plowing the same ground for a few years now. I think the movie works best as a look at unbridled selfishness, the ripple effective it can have on families, and what people are willing to do to protect their own interests. Most of that comes through the film’s array of characters who didn’t really need a crafty narrative hook or half-baked mystery to be compelling.
VERDICT – 3 STARS