With international high finance the modern era's wild west, it's not surprising Costa-Gavras — a stalwart of the politically minded thriller ("Z," "Missing") — would try to mine banking malfeasance for cinematic suspense. But "Capital," about the machinations engineered by a newly anointed French bank president (Gad Elmaleh) to avoid a takeover from an aggressive American hedge fund mastermind (Gabriel Byrne), never quite gels as either a sharp critique of take-no-prisoners commerce or a voyeuristic wallow in corporate nastiness.
Our youngish, married-with-kids antihero is in a precarious position — stay stodgy and European or adapt to ruthless profit-minded American tactics that amount to reverse Robin-Hood-ism — which is tough enough to dramatize effectively, particularly since Elmaleh's character is hard to pin down morally. (The source material is a novel by a French banker.) But then the silly, added intrigue of a globe-trotting supermodel vixen (Liya Kebede) and a librarian-sexy expert in Japanese economics (Celine Sallette) resembles those gimmicky newscasts read by beautiful women slowly stripping.
It's a tacit acknowledgment that heated talk of stock and layoffs isn't enough. There's plenty of pacing verve in Costa-Gavras' technique, and the residue from that first thrilling peek inside the hermetic world of big-time money-moving never goes away. What's lacking is most surprising from this dissident filmmaker: the emotional outrage.
"Capital." Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes. MPAA rating: R for sexual content, language and drug use. Playing: At Laemmle Royal, Los Angeles; Town Center 5, Encino; and Playhouse 7, Pasadena.
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