Saturday 29 May 2021

Movie Review: Human Capital (2019)

A drama featuring several storylines ensnaring two families, Human Capital explores class divisions and the twin pursuits of wealth and happiness. The multi-pronged narrative is handicapped by diffused focus.

After an awards banquet for high school students in upstate New York, a waiter is the victim of a hit-and-run accident on a country road. Events involving the Hagel and Manning families before, during, and after the fateful night are then revealed.

Real estate agent and recovered gambling addict Drew Hagel (Liev Schreiber) befriends wealthy and successful hedge fund manager Quint Manning (Peter Sarsgaard). Despite being financially stretched, Drew borrows $300,000 to invest with Quint and hides the transaction from his pregnant wife Ronnie (Betty Gabriel), a psychiatrist. The subsequent return on investment is not what Drew expected.

In parallel, Quint's wife Carrie (Marisa Tomei), a former B-movie actress, is feeling neglected. She convinces Quint to buy a heritage theatre as a side-project to support the arts. She is then romantically pursued by the theatre's tweedy artistic director Jon (Paul Sparks). The final story features the Hagels' teenaged daughter Shannon (Maya Hawke), who remains friends with the Mannings' son Jamie (Fred Hechinger) after they break up. She then starts a torrid romance with small-time drug dealer Ian (Alex Wolff), one of Ronnie's patients. On the night of the hit-and-run, the two families are seated at the same table, and seething financial and personal tensions contribute to tragedy.

An adaptation of the Stephen Amidon novel directed by Marc Meyers and written by Oren Moverman, Human Capital enjoys a strong opening propelled by complex Liev Schreiber and Peter Sarsgaard performances. The appetizing first chapter carries a looming darkness into the superficially idyllic suburbs, as nothing good can come from the unbalanced friendship between the recovering gambling addict and the oily hedge fund manager. Drew's pursuit of a quick financial windfall has all the predictable outcomes of a non-swimmer wading into the deep end of the pool.

But momentum stalls with the disposable middle episode featuring Carrie's disgruntlement, and the final act defaults to a bland teen angst mystery, new characters like Ian and his seedy uncle introduced late and in shorthand. As Meyers focuses more of his attention on the least interesting hit-and-run whodunnit drama, the victim's story is carelessly neglected, its absence a gaping black hole.

The common themes are disgruntled souls, misplaced priorities, and dashed hopes and dreams. And within all the social classes, children are left behind as their parents focus on monetary wealth. The material contains kernels of interest, Marisa Tomei and Maya Hawke invest heartily in their supporting roles, and with more commitment to each of the characters three separate movie-length narratives can be imagined. Instead Human Capital embarks on a choppy downward journey, every subsequent deposit reducing the yield.

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