Toronto Film Review: ‘Human Capital’

Several upstate New York lives are entangled by a hit-and-run accident in this well-cast but middling remake of the 2013 Italian film.

Marc Meyers
Liev Schreiber, Marisa Tomei, Peter Sarsgaard, Maya Hawke, Alex Wolff

Running time: 97 MIN.

“Human Capital” has returned home in a sense, in that American novelist Stephen Amidon’s 2004 book was made into a very well-received Italian film by Paolo Virzi in 2013, and now Marc Meyers’ U.S. feature is based on both prior incarnations. There’s no reason it shouldn’t work again in what is, after all, its original setting. Yet as with the recent stateside do-overs of “After the Wedding” and “Gloria,” this is another remake probably best enjoyed by those unfamiliar with its predecessor, which remains more incisive and memorable. This “Capital” succeeds as a well-acted crisscrosser of a melodrama between two awkwardly entangled families in upstate New York. Where it falls well short is in attaining the level of biting social commentary Virzi drew from the same material.

The first thing we see here is a restaurant worker bicycling home from work, only to be sideswiped by an SUV on a dark country road and left for dead. It takes some time before we get back to that incident, however, as the focus immediately shifts to the financial woes of real estate agent Drew (Liev Schreiber), who’s a bit stretched — and soon to be more so, once he learns that his therapist second wife Ronnie (Betty Gabriel) is expecting twins.

But a lucky break appears to fall in his lap when he drops off teenage daughter Shannon (Maya Hawke of “Stranger Things”) at her boyfriend’s manse. Fellow high schooler Jamie (Fred Hechinger) happens to be the son of superstar venture capitalist Quint Manning (Peter Sarsgaard), who happens to need a tennis partner at that moment. Having nearly gone pro in his youth, Drew passes muster, and doesn’t miss the chance to propose getting in on Quint’s much-trumpeted latest hedge fund.

Trouble is, this is the kind of enterprise devised by already rich people to further enrich one another. While assuring Quint otherwise, Drew doesn’t have the ready cash to make even the minimum required contribution of $300,000. But convinced he’s onto a “sure thing,” he falsifies his finances to get a high-interest loan. This could turn out to be a very bad idea — and needless to say, it does.

As this noose of his own making tightens around Drew’s neck, at the approximately one-third point certain events start being retold from a different perspective, that of Quint’s wife, Carrie (Marisa Tomei). A former actress of no particular renown, she’s a dissatisfied trophy wife, with little to do save run interference between her only child, Jamie, and his demanding father. She spies an opportunity for fulfillment in the form of a dilapidated but still impressive old art deco theater in their upstate town. With hubby’s money, could she acquire it, oversee a restoration, then chair the board for a new community arts center? It seems possible — until that hedge fund tanks, which proves bad news for all involved.

The events are related a third and final time from the viewpoint of Shannon, a somewhat bratty, sullen looker still resentful over her mother’s long-ago abandonment and Ronnie’s arrival. The hit-and-run mishap now takes center stage as the core plot mystery. Police have figured out the bicyclist was injured by Jamie’s car — but who was driving? Was it the rich kid, drunk after a party? Newly ex-girlfriend Shannon, whom he called for a ride? Or Ian (Alex Wolff of “Hereditary”), her new beau, who not incidentally is a disturbed patient of her stepmother’s?

Oren Moverman’s typically skillful screenplay etches these relationships and conflicts with brisk economy, and Meyers (whose last film “My Friend Dahmer” impressively managed a trickier tonal challenge) plays them out effectively enough, thanks in large part to his strong cast. But this time around, “Human Capital” feels less ingenious than a bit gimmicky, less a set of sharp if schematic collisions between oppositional interests than an overloaded pile of crises á la “Crash.” The class barriers that felt formidable in the Italian film are less potent in this American context, robbing the story of some thematic heft.

In the end, this incarnation comes off as an intelligent potboiler, no more or less, its convoluted narrative rigging not leading to any particular sense of meaning. The lack of some framing thesis, however vague, hurts because what we’re left with is just the human factor — and these largely dislikable characters aren’t easy to root for.

Nonetheless, the solid performances and assured packaging make this a reasonably engrossing tale set in a convincingly upscale burg where some less-prosperous citizens are trying not to make their anxiety too obvious. If the typical screen bedroom-community drama of half a century ago was about the disillusioning aspects of affluence, “Human Capital” is just as relevant in its reflection of today’s reality. Its middle-class denizens aren’t bored — they’re too busy hanging on for dear life.


Toronto Film Review: 'Human Capital'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 6, 2019. Running time: 97 MIN.

Production: A Maven Pictures, Bert Marcus Film presentation in association with Raptor Films, Farcaster Films, Sobiloff Prods., Ibid Films, Bit of Both Prods., Illuminated Content, Indiana Prod., RAI Cinema. (Int'l sales: UTA, Los Angeles.) Producers: Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler, Oren Moverman, Bert Marcus, Matthew Stillman. Executive producers: Peter Sobiloff, Michael Sobiloff, Cathleen Ihasz, Nicole Ihasz, Joanna Plafsky, Cassandra Thorton, Brian Lamacchia, Henry Wu, Jody Girgenti, Jenny Halper, Nic Marshall, Christopher Burch, Ali K. Rizvi, Ash Avildsen, Voula Wolf Duval, Jon Wanzek, Jacqui Lewis, David Yashar, Alex Hall, J.D. Oppenheim, Fabrizio Donvito, Marco Cohen, Benedetto Habib, Daniel Campos Pavoncelli, Dov Mamann.

Crew: Director: Marc Meyers. Screenplay: Oren Moverman, based on the book by Stephen Amidon” and the film “Il Capital Unman” by Paolo Virzi. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Kat Westergaard. Editors: Tariq Anwar, Alex Hall. Music: Marcelo Zarvos.

With: Liev Schreiber, Marisa Tomei, Peter Sarsgaard, Maya Hawke, Alex Wolff, Betty Gabriel, Assif Mandvi, Mark Blum, Dominic Colon, James Waterston, Fredric Lehne, Marisa Ryan, Paul Sparks. Fred Hechinger.

More Film

  • Kung Fu Panda 3

    Universal's Beijing Resort to Partner With Alibaba on Digitization

    Amid fierce controversy about the leverage China has over U.S. entertainment firms with significant mainland operations, Universal Beijing Resort and Alibaba announced a strategic partnership Thursday to digitize the forthcoming theme park in China’s capital. Facial recognition and the use of big data will be the norm at the new resort, which will use an [...]

  • They Shall Not Grow Old restoration

    Peter Jackson Documentary 'They Shall Not Grow Old' Nabs Limited China Release

    The Peter Jackson produced and directed World War I documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” will hit Chinese theaters on November 11. Though it will roll out nationwide, it will do so via the China’s National Arthouse Alliance, which has limited screens. The 2018 documentary puts together interviews with WWI veterans and more than 100-year-old [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    'Zombieland: Double Tap' Hopes to Recapture Raunchy Zombie Magic, 10 Years Later

    Audiences may have a few questions about the sequel to 2009’s hit “Zombieland,” which opens Friday. Why did it take 10 years to make a second one, after the first grossed $102.4 million worldwide on a $23 million budget, making it the third-biggest zombie movie of all time (second-biggest if you don’t count “Hotel Transylvania,” [...]

  • AMC TheatresShop signs, Los Angeles, America

    AMC Theatres Accused of Firing VP Who Complained of Gender Pay Gap

    A former vice president at AMC Theatres filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday, accusing the company of firing her after she complained that she was paid far less than her male peers. Tonya Mangels, who was vice president of product marketing, said that in March 2018 her supervisor inadvertently sent her a spreadsheet that included [...]

  • Sir Elton John poses for photographers

    Elton John Calls 'Lion King' Remake a 'Huge Disappointment'

    Elton John isn’t feeling the love for Disney’s latest live-action remake. In an interview with GQ U.K., the legendary musician criticized Disney’s remake of “The Lion King,” citing the film’s music as a “huge disappointment.” “The new version of The Lion King was a huge disappointment to me, because I believe they messed the music [...]

  • Fiddlin'

    Film Review: 'Fiddlin''

    Not many forms of music have “old-” actually built into their name as a prefix. So it’s a given that the practitioners of the 200-year-old genre known as “old-time music” will wear their antiquity proudly in “Fiddlin’,” a documentary set in and around the 80th annual Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, Va. What may not [...]

  • Jonah Hill attends the press conference

    Jonah Hill Passes on Role in 'The Batman'

    After being offered a role in “The Batman,” Jonah Hill has moved on from the project. Why exactly Hill is passing is currently unknown, and insiders tell Variety that when the news was initially reported, it was very early in the negotiations and that a deal was far from closing. The news comes after Zoe [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content