By Lynn Venhaus
The movie shows its cards right away: “This story does not in any way claim to be the truth,” we read on the screen. “Nonetheless, it is inspired by actual events.”
Washington D.C. social climber Ulrich Mott (Christoph Waltz) has conned his way into the upper echelons of politics and society, including marrying wealthy and much-older widow Elsa Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave). When she is found dead one evening after a triumphant dinner party, her daughter Amanda (Annette Bening) suspects foul play. The police investigation will uncover a large web of deception.
As we’re immersed into D.C.’s political maneuvering, we see the slick grifter Mott ingratiating himself with movers and shakers. The charming Mott is being hailed as “Lawrence of Arabia with a Blackberry,” regaling stories of his diplomatic exploits to the doyens of society.
Remarkably, his schtick works – until it doesn’t, but he can sure spin whoppers. In a truth is stranger than fiction way, “Georgetown” looks at the power plays in Washington D.C., where an ambitious German-born swindler can bamboozle the smart and important. And it’s a remarkable story how he got as far as he did – if we are to believe it all.
Based on the 2012 New York Times article, “The Worst Marriage in Georgetown,” by Franklin Foer, the film shows how Albrecht Gero Muth took advantage of Viola Herms Drath, a journalist, author, advisor to public figures and a wealthy widow. Although their names have been changed, the story is a tragic and bizarre true-crime headline.
Playwright David Auburn, who won a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for “Proof,” has adapted the sordid events into a dark comedy but the tone isn’t consistent, and there is little insight into the odd flim-flam man’s schemes and backstory.
In real life, Muth was 44 years younger than Drath and was convicted of her murder in 2014. You can dig deeper into that case on your own if you want more reality context.
As for the marriage, the movie offers a ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ scenario – a couple’s close relationship that disintegrates as more of Muth’s deceit is revealed.
Waltz, winner of two Oscars, and Redgrave, winner of one, delectably tango when she’s done with his charade and he’s not pretending to be devoted. They can make a three-course meal out of scenery chewing – and it’s fun to watch. Waltz also directed.
Not so fortunate is Annette Bening, whose Harvard law professor daughter character is underdrawn and is reduced to glaring at Mott with total disdain every time she’s on screen which isn’t much.
Because Redgrave, now 84, is playing a 91-year-old journalist, we see her sharp mind at work. The legendary actress might have slowed down but she’s still one of the best.
With such a lauded cast, you expect the outcome to be better but the film runs out of gas – maybe it’s because Mott is such an odd, pathetic character. It’s the kind of role that gave Waltz a film career, and he’s good at playing a schuyster. But even this guy can’t drum up any sympathy.
It is funny, however, when he’s donning an eye patch, claiming of service in the French Foreign Legion and as a brigadier general in the Iraqi Special Forces.
The attorneys are practically rolling their eyes over his antics — one of them being the exceptional Corey Hawkins, frustrated by Muth’s grandiosity and his clear-cut motives.
The movie was made in 2018, premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, and is finally out now. Not sure what that all means, and while it has its flaws, the story is intriguing – and just to see Redgrave and Waltz tussle is worth it.
“Georgetown” is a 2019 true crime drama directed by Christoph Waltz and starring Waltz, Vanessa Redgrave and Annette Bening. Rated R for language and brief sexual material, with a runtime of 1 hour, 39 minutes. It was available Video on Demand beginning May 18.
Lynn’s Take: B-