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-
She quotes poetry and he combs through books for his classes in their well lived-in cottage by the sea. Their grown son, Jamie (Josh O’Connor), rarely visits, and they all interact with such restraint that you know some things are simmering underneath the polite and genteel façade.
Grace (Annette Bening) is needy and Edward (Bill Nighy) is distant. They are a longtime married couple slogging through a dull, lifeless marriage. When Edward decides he can’t give Grace what she wants as they approach their 29th anniversary and he will leave for another woman, their divorce drama plays out, pulling in their single adult son.
This is a British movie sorely in need of some “oomph.” And that doesn’t mean more sweeping shots of the coastal cliffs.
Well-intentioned, though, this look at a disintegration of a marriage and its ripple effects isn’t as finessed as the superior “Marriage Story” or even “Shoot the Moon” starring Albert Finney and Diane Keaton 30-some years ago.
Director-writer William Nicholson, who was Oscar-nominated for his screenplays of “Gladiator” and Shadowlands,” has adapted his 1989 play, The Retreat from Moscow,” into a very stiff movie.
While the performers are good delving into their characters, a pall of melancholy hangs over what is a nice-looking film. Bening’s accent wavers, and both characters are annoying as their selfishness is exposed.
And the subplot with the son’s inability to sustain a close relationship needed more development. O’Connor, who played Prince Charles in “The Crown,” is strong and deserved a better-written character.
In fact, the movie just goes through the motions, and fails to sustain any momentum. “Hope Gap” is a drama rated PG-13 for some thematics elements and brief strong language. Directed by William Nicholson, its stars Annette Bening, Bill Nighy and Josh O’Connor. Run time is: 1 hr. 40 min. Lynn’s Grade: C
On this President’s Day, let’s look back at the films
centered around an American President, and what actors were best at portraying
the Commander-in-Chief – be it fact or fiction. Here are some of my favorite
dramas, comedies and even romances that included the most powerful leader of
the free world. We are only listing theatrical films and the HBO film
adaptation of “All the Way.”
If we included television, we’d have a wider pool, and that’s
for another list. What are your favorites that spotlight our U.S. leader?
1.Lincoln (2012) — Daniel Day-Lewis not only delivers the best presidential portrayal ever on screen, but also one of the best male performances of all-time. Day-Lewis won his third Oscar, and it was never in doubt. Just a remarkable portrayal of Abe as a man struggling to hold the country together and lead them to higher ground. Director Steven Spielberg brought a humanity to the story rarely seen in historical portraits.
2. Dave (1993) — Kevin Kline is Dave Kovic, who is hired to impersonate the commander-in-chief when President Bill Mitchell suffers a stroke during an illicit affair.
A comedic take on an everyman winning over government wonks with his common sense, solidly directed by Ivan Reitman. Sigourney Weaver is a formidable First Lady.
3. Thirteen Days (2000) – President John F. Kennedy saved the day when we were on the brink of nuclear war with Russia, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is a historical look back at this tense political time in 1962, through the perspective of White House assistant Kenneth P. O’Donnell (Kevin Costner), with Bruce Greenwood strong as JFK.
4. The American President (1995) – This is Aaron Sorkin’s idealism front and center before “The West Wing.”
Michael Douglas shines as a widowed president running for re-election who starts a romance with an environmental lobbyist played by Annette Bening, but the political fallout affects their relationship.
Savvy script, smart casting (especially Martin Sheen and Michael J. Fox as chief of staff and press secretary) make this Rob Reiner-helmed comedy-drama a memorable one.
5. Air Force One (1997) – Harrison Ford as kick-butt President James Marshall. Love it! The fit commander-in-chief is a Vietnam vet in this political action-thriller directed by Wolfgang Petersen. A group of terrorists hijack the president’s plane and threaten the U.S. but our hero won’t let that happen on his watch. Glenn Close is the vice president and Gary Oldman the Russian bad guy, but it is Ford, in all his star power, as the take-charge head of state that made this movie one of the most successful of the ‘90s.
6. Nixon (1995) – Anthony Hopkins embodied the beleaguered president during his tumultuous White House years, with Joan Allen riveting as his long-suffering wife Pat. Oliver Stone directed, so the agenda is clear.
7. Frost/Nixon (2008) – Frank Langella was Oscar-nominated as the disgraced Nixon seeking redemption in his four-part interviews with Britain’s David Frost in 1977. Ron Howard sharply directed the adaptation of Peter Morgan’s 2006 play, with whip-smart movie script by the playwright.
8. Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) – Director John Ford teamed up with actor Henry Fonda for this look at honest Abe during his early years. Fonda embodies the heroic ideals of the lawyer and statesman who would become the 16th president of the United States.
9. All the Way (2016) — Bryan Cranston won a well-deserved Tony Award for his masterful portrayal of Lyndon Baines Johnson during the early days of the Civil Rights movement in the 2014 play by Robert Schenkkan.
This is the Emmy-nominated HBO adaptation, written by the playwright and directed by Jay Roach. Cranston is again uncanny as political animal LBJ, and the all-star cast includes Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King Jr., Stephen Root as J. Edgar Hoover, Bradley Whitford as Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Melissa Leo as Lady Bird Johnson.
10. The Contender (2000) — The wonderful Jeff Bridges is a likeable two-term Democratic President, Jackson Evans, who decides to break the glass ceiling and appoint a woman Vice-President after the current one dies.
However, his nominee, Ohio Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) gets entangled in vicious hearings with a bullseye on her back. This political thriller is written and directed by Rod Lurie, a former newspaper guy. Both Bridges and Allen were nominated for Oscars.
11. Primary Colors (1998) – John Travolta was at the top of his game portraying Jack Stanton, a charismatic Southern governor running for president. Recognize anyone? Based on the 1996 “Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics” by Newsweek’s Joe Klein, this fictionalized account of Clinton’s 1992 campaign had a crackerjack supporting cast (Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, Oscar nominee Kathy Bates), sharply directed by Mike Nichols and written by his former comedy partner Elaine May.
12. Southside with You (2016) – A ‘what if’ movie that works, quirks and all, with its imagining of what Michelle Robinson and Barack Obama’s first date was like back when they were lawyers in Chicago. Written and directed by Richard Tanner, this little charmer comes alive when the nervous future two-term president shows off his oratory skills at a community meeting. Parker Sawyer is a genuinely believable Obama but Tika Sumpter really shines as the life force who would become First Lady Michelle Obama.
14. Elvis and Nixon (2016) – You may think this is preposterous, but this really did happen. And it’s one goofy movie. On Dec. 21, 1970, rock ‘n’ roll icon Elvis Presley went to the White House for a meeting with President Richard Nixon – and that historical photograph is the most requested one at the National Archives. Talk about offbeat casting — Michael Shannon is a different kind of Elvis while Kevin Spacey impersonates Nixon.
16. Independence Day (1996) – Bill Pullman is memorable President Thomas J. Whitmore facing an alien invasion, and his rallyng-all-Americans speech is one of the best-known in films. Here is the transcript of that great speech:
President Whitmore: Good morning. Good morning. In less than an hour aircrafts from here will join others from around the world and you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. Mankind, that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the 4th of July and you will once again be fighting for our freedom not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution but from annihilation.
We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist, and should we win today the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American President holiday but is the day when the world declared in one voice,
“We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”
This epic sci-fi disaster film made $817.4 million and won the Oscar for Best VIsual Effects.
17. Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” (2013) and 18. “White House Down” (2013) These aren’t films of particularly lasting impact but the casting of the presidents is genius.
In “The Butler,” Forest Whitaker plays a White House employee who serves multiple presidents – and this casting is certainly eyebrow-raising:
Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower, James Marsden as JFK, Liev Shreiber as LBJ, John Cusack as Nixon, and the most brilliant turn by Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan (with Jane Fonda as Nancy!).
Jamie Foxx is the kick-ass president in the action thriller “White House Down,” which came out at the same time as the inferior “Olympus Has Fallen,” all about a terrorist group creating chaos at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He’s terrific and a good match-up with Channing Tatum as a heroic Secret Serviceman.
Honorable Mentions: Oscar nominee Sam Rockwell is pitch-perfect as George W. Bush in “Vice” (2018), but he’s barely a supporting character. In Natalie Portman’s tour de force “Jackie,” Caspar Phillipson and John Carroll Lynch are effective portraying John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson.