Recently, a glut of actors and actresses have tried their hands at directing (mostly, to varying degrees of success). For many of these creatives, directing offers the chance to pursue passion projects or diversify a still-limited market for POC performers. Two-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz’s directorial debut Georgetown, definitely falls into the former category: a passion project about a real-life D.C. power couple whose marriage ends in violence — the film lacks spontaneity and features a rudimentary sense of camera movement in an ultimately dull story.
The film opens in the home of Ulrich Mott (Christoph Waltz) and Elsa Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave). Ulrich commands the room, as Elsa is barely seen during the film’s first few minutes. The camera tracks and pans through the room as Ulrich serves his guests while they talk amongst themselves, sharing biographical information and tall-tales about their host. The combination of the camera movement and dialogue in David Auburn‘s script makes for clunky exposition.
Also, first-time directors are sometimes nervous to leave the camera sitting stationary, believing if said camera isn’t moving, then they’re not doing their jobs. Waltz falls into this unfortunate category as much of the camera movement is excessive. The framing through much of the film is also dreadful.
Later in the film, we find out Mott is an A-class bullshitter with an inferiority complex. Married to the much older and widowed journalist Elsa (91), he walks around in his military regalia, sharing stories of his exploits in counter terrorism in Iraq to his guests.
Amanda (Annette Bening), Elsa’s daughter, also attends the dinner. She despises Mott, seeing him for what he is: an opportunistic social climber who’s used her mother’s money and social connections to create a cushy mythology around himself.
However, tragedy strikes when Elsa is found dead at the couple’s home. The rest of the film becomes an investigation of her death, with Ulrich as the prime suspect. Told in chapters, we soon learn more-and-more details about the couple’s life and Ulrich himself as he assembles a legal team composed of Daniel Volker (Corey Hawkins) to defend himself.
Based off of a New York Times article, Georgetown does present plenty of avenues for a dramatic, yet humorist film in the mold ofjousn After Reading. Unfortunately, Waltz’s direction and the script meanders. Clocking in at 99 minutes, one gets the sense that even that runtime requires some trimming as the stilted uses of chapters only serves to slow the film to a crawl from its inevitable conclusion.
Ironically, Waltz and co. don’t seem to know where they want to take this film: Should it be a character study or a mystery? The lines between the two frameworks aren’t solid, often blurred, yet the mix here makes the two approaches appear worlds apart (especially with regards to the score meshing oddball spy music with patriotic horns).
However, Georgetown does provide some solid character work. Vanessa Redgrave and Annette Bening succeed the best they can considering the melodramatic material. Hawkins continues to do well in roles big and small as he gives a layered performance in the film’s second half. And Waltz, who plays a character more akin to his role in Big Eyes than Inglorious Bastards or Django Unchained, offers a solid if mundane portrayal of Ulrich.
Ultimately, Waltz matches Georgetown in terms of quality, while not downright terrible the film isn’t better than average and continues his inglorious sans-Tarantino career.
Image courtesy of Alan Markfield