Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Christopher Waltz
Writer: David Auburn, based on the NY Times article 7/8/12 “The Worst Marriage in Georgetown” by Franklin Foer
Cast: Christoph Waltz, Vanessa Redgrave, Annette Bening
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/12/21
Opens: May 14, 2021

So you think the Ponzi scheme worked out by the late Bernie Madoff is the most egregious case of its kind? Here’s another one that could take top honors away, though it not only yielded few financial dividends, motivated a murder, and involved people in the highest employ of international government. In his debut as director, Christoph Waltz, who may always be identified principally with his stellar role as a high-level Nazi in “Inglourious Basterds,” plans a scheme, yes a Ponzi scheme indeed. He would make contacts with important people, each of whom would refer him to a person of higher stature (including a former prime minister of France), a scammer who would ultimately be best known for killing his wife. Written by the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright David Auburn, “Georgetown” is more than simply inspired by an actual case in in which Albrecht Muth was convicted of killing his far older wife Viola Herms Drath, inheriting a relativity small sum of just a few hundred thousand dollars, but especially a large house in the tony DC section of Georgetown. In the film Ulrich Mott (Christoph Waltz), and his wife Elsa Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave) work together together to give celebrity status to a man who, in the movie, is about 44 while his wife is 91. It’s no wonder that Brecht’s daughter by a first marriage, Amanda (Annette Bening), cast a wary eye on Muth when he announced his engagement at a dinner party, one which he catered himself and which prompted Elsa to call him her butler.

“Georgetown” is one of those films that appropriately avoid conventional chronological telling. After all you wouldn’t think that Vanessa Redgrave, whose body is escorted from the house in a zippered bag near the beginning of the drama, is not to be seen again.

Though the actual story involves a teen aged Albrecht Muth courting is sixty-something widow, we are not totally surprised that in the filmed version, a man in his mid-forties makes contact with Elsa, lavishly praising her journalism. We watch as Elsa, flattered by Ulrich who kisses her hand, agrees to see him again—surprisingly enough since a journalist should be among the first to spot a phony.

Mott begins the scam by simply taking over the name tag and identity of the boss who fired him from an internship as a bad fit, getting him into the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Shortly thereafter Elsa, not really appreciating her spouse’s bringing her breakfast in bed, urges him to be ambitious, to use the energy and charm to ascend the career ladder by meeting and impressing important people. Elsa signs her own death warrant, if you will, by encouraging Ulrich’s design in appropriating a name for a fake NGO, which somehow none of the people who serve as his too-willing abettors can see through. Watch how he works and you may go away from the theater with your own ideas on how to scam. It’s simple. At an event, he heads right over to the former prime minister of France, who looks as though he would like to get away from his intruder pronto, but who ultimately is taken in by the man’s graces and is too willing to believe that Ulrich’s NGO, “Eminent Persons Group,” is not just a sheet of worthless paper. Maybe it helped that George Soros, who never heard of the group and who doesn’t know Ulrich is listed on the board of directors.

Who needs Jimmy Carter to bail out Americans held hostage by hostile nations when you have Ulrich Mott to serve as peacemaker? To that end Ulrich struts about with the uniform of an Iraqi soldier, a Brigadier General at that. Why not? The bigger the lie, as we have seen recently in our own country, the more likely people will believe it.

We see the house of cards collapsing when after explaining to some bigwigs that he was in the French Foreign Legion is challenged by one fellow who asks where those bars on his military jacket are for and suggesting sarcastically that Ulrich should ask the foreign legion for help on a dilemma. The film concludes on a hearing to determine whether he should stand trial for murder. Even his own lawyer begs him for something that could help him win a case that has little to no real defense (he was “out for a walk” when his wife was murdered in a break-in).

The film is bookmarked by a distant shot of a man, later identified as Ulrich, dressed in an Iraqi officer’s uniform, commanding a few dozen men. Ultimately this is Waltz’s movie, as he passes this test: do you really feel bad that his character was indicted for murder and, as shown in an epilogue, sentenced to 50 years in jail? If so, he is even a better charmer than we think, able to move us in our theater seats to his side.

99 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A
Technical – A-
Overall – A-

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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