Thursday, May 9, 2019

Tribeca with Abe: Georgetown

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which ran April 24th – May 5th.

Directed by Christoph Waltz
Spotlight Narrative

Some actors are born to play a particular role. Christoph Waltz is an Austrian-born actor who achieved international fame in 2009 when he won an Oscar for playing Nazi Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds,” and then scored another Oscar for his subsequent Quentin Tarantino collaboration in “Django Unchained.” Waltz demonstrated his versatility after that with a comparatively normal role in “Carnage,” a stint as a Bond villain in “Spectre,” and a return to masterful deception in “Big Eyes.” That latter part is perhaps the best and most fitting qualification for Waltz’s feature directorial debut in which he also stars as a man who is most definitely not what he claims to be.

Presenting its story from multiple time periods at once, this film introduces its protagonist, Ulrich Mott (Waltz), as someone who knows people. He delights in hosting dinner parties for the powerful and influential, and he manages to charm everyone save for those closest to him. His much older wife, journalist Elsa Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave), seems to tire of his constant conversation, while her daughter, Amanda (Annette Bening), is immensely suspicious of his motivations. As his business network grows, it becomes clear that little, if any, of what Mott says is true, and his greatest aim in life is to convince everyone that he can accomplish anything on their behalf.

There is much about Waltz as an actor that is indistinguishable, thanks in no small part to his mastery of language and the excitement with which he delivers nearly all of his lines. That aids his character considerably, adding to the mystery of Mott as someone whose express purpose is never clear-cut, seeking always to expand his purported connections so that he can promise more to the next person he meets. The way that Waltz can change the expression of his face so quickly and subtly is remarkable, and it makes his potentially villainous nature all the more fascinating.

Opposite Waltz, Redgrave, who at eighty-two is still getting strong parts like this one, performs commendably, matching his gleeful pursuit of business relationships with her own established and reserved savvy. Bening, unfortunately, isn’t given much to do, and represents the weaker aspects of the film, which deal with the procedural efforts to bring Mott down for unknown crimes. When this film is hiding its characters’ ambitions and motives, it’s at its best, and giving Waltz yet another fantastic part to play is its most positive result.


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