The Greek-born, French-based, Oscar-winning Costa-Gavras has always had his finger on the world pulse, his filmography ("Z," "Missing") always a fiercely political mixed bag of outrage and dramatic purpose. Although his instincts have always seemed prescient, with "Capital," he isn't exactly ahead of the pack -- global banking as a portal to hell has been done, and done again. But his approach -- vaguely farcical, whimsical and absurdist -- is new. And new for him.
Marc Tourneuil (Gad Elmaleh, "Midight in Paris," "Coco") is a schemer. He has wheedled his way into the confidence of Phenix bank CEO Jack Marmande (Daniel Mesguich) to the extent that, when cancer fells Marmande on the golf course, he picks Marc as his successor. Jack has his own scheme -- he's not planning on going anywhere soon, and sees Marc as a tool to be used and discarded. His colleagues see the succession as a disaster. Marc sees it as an opportunity to subjugate his rivals, seize the power, and turn Phenix into a state-of-the-art empire.
His American counterparts, notably Dittmar (Gabriel Byrne) have other ideas and have bought up enough shares to hang over Marc's head as they attempt to steer Phenix onto the shoals of commerce and buy it cheaply. Costa-Gavras makes the financial chicanery clear enough for the layman while casting the entire adventure -- via Marc's moustache-twirling voice-over, overwrought action and melodramatic plot points -- as dry farce.
The character with whom we're supposed to sympathize is tough to get a bead on. He is, on one hand, a font of avarice, on another a master of irony. At the suggestion of his faithful wife
(Natacha Régnier) he adopts Maoist stratagems in his management of Phenix, imposing self-criticism and maneuvering an empowered "proletariat" to implement the cuts his American masters are demanding. Overall, though, "Capital" is an intelligent adventure in high finance, though perhaps without the urgency for which its director is renowned.
PLOT A Machiavellian French banker is undermined by his shifty American partners, and proceeds to try and turn the tables.
RATING R (sexual situations, substance abuse and strong language)
CAST Gad Elmaleh, Gabriel Byrne, Liya Kebede
BOTTOM LINE Director Costa-Gavras takes a vaguely facetious tone toward the evils of global finance, which he concludes is a game for gluttonous boys.