Saturday, May 29, 2021

Movie Reviews: Georgetown

directed by Christoph Waltz
In both of the previous movies (Django Unchained, Inglorious Basterds) in which I've seen Waltz, he has played a garrulous grammar pedant and bon vivant who is more dangerous than his antagonists or even the audience first realize. 
In this movie, his directorial debut, Waltz again portrays that sort of smarmy character. The difference with this film is that because it's based on a true story that yet feels stereotypical, it's very obvious from the beginning that Waltz's character has something up his sleeve. 
There aren't too many surprises for the viewer here. What does exist is a sense of frustration and wonder that conmen can so easily prey on the elderly, the lonely, the greedy, the naive, the desperate, or the ambitious. 
Georgetown also made me feel some resignation that age and resulting physical frailties will eventually impact us all, if we are lucky. 
I liked Waltz's interpretation of his character, who like some demonic/devilish entities described in a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, expends a tremendous amount of energy trying to be attractive and charming to whomever he's interacting with at any given time. From time to time the mask slips and the character's true nature is revealed. Sometimes this is played for laughs, but usually it's not so amusing.

Elsa Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave) is an elderly German-born Washington D.C. socialite, and retired writer, journalist, diplomat, foreign policy advisor, professor, lecturer, and philosopher. Elsa and her American Army Colonel husband have been fixtures of the D.C. elite establishment for at least the past forty years. Elsa knows everyone worth knowing in or among Congress, the White House, the State Department, foreign ambassadors, think tanks, law firms, newspaper editors, book publishers, lobbying firms, and academia. Elsa's dinner parties are one of the places to be seen by and rub shoulders with the movers and shakers.
Ulrich Mott (Waltz) is an eccentric intern guiding Congressional tours. Ulrich's boss dislikes him, in part because he thinks that any man Ulrich's age working as an intern is probably hiding something. 
When Ulrich's boss overhears Ulrich lying to a tour group, he "suggests" that Ulrich might be happier doing something else. Like right now. Ulrich sneaks/bluffs his way into the White House Correspondents Dinner and is able to "accidentally" meet Elsa, who is still married at this time.
Using their shared German origins and foreign policy interests to bond, Ulrich arranges many luncheons with Elsa. Ulrich boasts of his own foreign policy expertise; he claims to have served with the French Foreign Legion and Iraqi military. 

Eventually Ulrich hints that he likes Elsa in that way, despite the twin inconvenient facts of her marriage and an age difference of at least thirty years. So when Elsa's husband passes on, guess who is there to comfort her and become the new man in her life? Elsa is flattered and bemused by Ulrich's attention.
This is all too much for Elsa's daughter Amanda (Annette Bening) a newly tenured Harvard Law Professor who thinks she knows a cockroach when she sees one, even if he does wear bright shiny medals of uncertain origin. Undeterred, Ulrich, with Elsa's help, begins building his own political lobbying firm. Ulrich has big plans. And no one is going to stand in his way, especially not Amanda.
I enjoyed the swooping busy camera work. It gives the viewer a sense of how many plates Ulrich is spinning in the air. The non-linear pacing also works. 
As director Waltz pays more attention to how Washington D.C. works and less to why the three primary characters behave as they do. We can see that Ulrich is up to no good from the start but we don't see what drives him. Maybe Waltz considered that to be obvious. Money, power, and sex are always powerful motivators. 
I still could have done with more Ulrich backstory as well as some deeper examination of Amanda's frustrations with and fears of dealing with an aging parent. Corey Hawkins from Straight Outta Compton is an irritated and oft hamstrung lawyer. This movie has some humorous moments but it's not a comedy. I was impressed with the British born Redgrave's take on a clipped German accent.
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