It’s little surprise that the directorial debut of Christoph Waltz, star of films like Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, would center around the story of a masterful and complicated psychopath. Georgetown tells the story of the marriage between Ulrich Mott (Waltz) and Elise Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave), based on the 2012 New York Times article “The Worst Marriage in Georgetown.”
Ulrich is a skilled, eccentric social climber who woos a successful journalist named Elise, forty years his senior, into marriage shortly after the death of her husband. Amanda (Annette Benning) is the only one in Elise’s circle immune to Mott’s charm, but this is not much good to her against a player as masterful as Ulrich. Complicating matters is Elise herself, who quickly proves her proclamation to Amanda that she wasn’t born yesterday. Seeing thru Ulrich’s calculated usefulness, she decides to put him to use for her own gains in acts of political genius; he is her shameless, enthusiastic pawn. What follows is a marriage of two formidable players — immigrants who understand a thing or two about survival — bound together through the complications of having to remake themselves in a new country.
However, one underestimates the lengths the other will go to avoid being called an idiot. Both legendary actors, Waltz and Redgrave make a very terrible marriage wildly entertaining to watch, without sacrificing the depth of danger they are both in. Annette Benning is excellent as a gravitational force that pierces each scene with the sobriety of impending, unavoidable tragedy.
Waltz has the rare ability to defy type-casting while deeply exploring a similar kind of guy: the wolf in sheep’s clothing — or said another way, the man who believes in the right to his own lies. Like his scene-stealing characters, the director seduces the audience into a dazzling, dizzying world that makes it easy to see why his psychopaths are so successful. This movie is a lot of fun, unapologetically very smart, and very dark. The wolfish, gleeful fun Waltz brings to his performances is put to excellent use behind the camera; Waltz knows how to entertain. On full display here is his ability to reveal with frightening precision how dangerous leaders come into power. He embodies Mott with an almost supernatural seductive power in one scene, and reveals the small frightened vulnerability that drives him in the next. He reminds us that monsters are often metaphors for real people; Mott could easily sport a set of fangs while remaining all too tragically human. Waltz delivers an impressive debut and marks himself as a director to watch. (Ivy Lofberg)
The Tribeca Film Festival runs April 24 to May 5. Visit the official website for more details.