Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thanks to its fine New York ensemble, 'Human' condition connects two families and more

One of the best things about watching New York-based films is the inevitability of spotting character actors you know from other movies or classic TV shows such as "The Sopranos." That happens to be the case with "Human Capital," which recently enjoyed its world premiere at the 44th annual Toronto International Film Festival.

Hidden among the movie's powerful ensemble cast is John Ventimiglia (perhaps better known as classic restaurateur Artie Bucco on the cable series that just about started it all for HBO). Here, he's barely credited as the uncle of a key young character (played by Alex Wolff from "Hereditary"). Naturally, Ventimiglia gives it his all in both of his big scenes, causing a gal close to Wolff  to comment later on, "I don't like your uncle."
Sarsgaard and Schreiber head separate families involved in a collective mess.

And that's the rub -- at least for yours truly -- since Ventimiglia's "Uncle David" is one of the few characters not showing personality warts in an ensemble led by Liev Schreiber, Marisa Tomei, Peter Sarsgaard, Maya Hawke ("Stranger Things") and Betty Gabriel ("Get Out"). I mean, I like the guy, which is more than I can say for many of the other characters.

Right now, in fact, I can't deny that I really like some of this movie, too, as directed by Marc Myers (most recently off "My Friend Dahmer," much of which was shot, of course, in and around serial killer-to-be Dahmer's hometown of Bath, Ohio).

"Human Capital" has a pedigree initiated by Stephen Amidon's 2004 novel, continued with Paolo Virzi's 2013 Italian film adaptation, and now evolves anew from screenwriter Oren Moverman  ("Love & Mercy," "The Messenger"), perhaps with a wayward twist or two.

The basic story stays the same: Waiter riding home via bicycle following an awards dinner attended by some familiar faces becomes a hit-and-run victim. Certainly the whodunit element remains vital, but so does the way Meyers/Moverman put the various driving suspects in the spotlight on a couple of different occasions.

Schreiber, in this case nothing like the tough guy he so marvelously creates on "Ray Donovan," and Sarsgaard, as good a cad as there is on screen today, kick things off with a chance meeting on the latter's huge upstate estate. Tomei enters early as the ex-actress wife of one of them, as does Hawke, portraying a daughter with some mommy issues. Gabriel appears a little later as a shrink and, obviously then, a more adjusted spouse.

Secrets slowly emerge -- along with some real or imagined class distinctions -- from all concerned.

By the way, getting back to Ventimiglia and Artie Bucco, his TV "wife" Kathrine Narducci (the lovely Charmaine Bucco) actually showed up in "Bad Education," an even more essential New York-produced world premiere at this year's Toronto film festival. Since then, that Hugh Jackman-starrer has been picked up by HBO for showing in 2020. Wolff is in it as well.

 "Human Capital" has no MPAA rating yet; 1:37; $ $ $ out of $5

This is one in an intermittent series of reviews featuring buzz-worthy films either currently playing the festival circuit ot waiting for a distributor and subsequent release.

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