I’ve been sitting on this review all week because I didn’t really know how to approach it. Georgetown was one of my most anticipated movies of the Tribeca Film Festival, but even after seeing it over a week ago, I still don’t know how to approach it. Directed and starring Christoph Waltz, Georgetown is Waltz’s directorial debut, easily showing that he has an eye for suspense and political intrigue. Everything about the movie is great from a technical and narrative perspective, but it just faces one problem.
I didn’t care about it. Even after watching it and having a good time, I’m left with indifference towards it. I know that I liked it, but outside of having Waltz bring his fantastic acting skills to an interesting character I’d be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone.
Director: Christoph Waltz
Release Date: April 27, 2019 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Georgetown is based on a New York Times article, “The Worst Marriage in Georgetown,” which details the real life, stranger than fiction murder investigation into Ulrich Mott (Waltz). He’s a literal man of mystery who socializes with high ranking political officials from multiple nations, served as a Brigadier General in the Iraqi Special Forces, and hosts lavish dinner parties with his 91 year old wife Elsa Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave), who he married after her husband died. After one dinner party, Elsa turns up dead and her daughter Amanda (Annette Benning) is instantly suspicious of her step-father, leading to his arrest and an investigation into who exactly Mott is while Mott insists that Elsa was murdered and he knows who killed her. Are his claims true? Where did he come from? Most importantly, did Mott kill his wife?
The movie is at its best when Waltz is on screen as Mott. He’s able to play a character that is strangely one of the most charming people you’ll ever met. Mott is a snake-charmer if I’ve ever seen one, being able to convince anyone of anything he wants to while making it seem like a complete suggestion. You can tell from a mile away that this man is suspicious as hell, but his reputation seems authentic. On the surface, Mott is clean with no shades of a sinister nature outside of a reported case of domestic abuse years ago. That being said, if the movie tells you he’s honorable and all of the facts prove that Mott is altruistic, we can tell that something is wrong and like Amanda, there’s something wrong about him. We just don’t know what.
In reality, Mott is both the smartest person in Washington and a complete idiot. While he can manipulate a scenario to his liking and talks like the smartest man in the room, it’s almost laughable how inept he is. He frequently talks with huge political figures like the French Prime Minister, but decides to introduce himself to him while wearing an eyepatch that makes him look like Blofeld (hehe). He can see perfectly, but it’s Mott playing dress up and acting more important than he his. When he meets with embassy members to propose his plans for peace in the Middle East, he literally suggests just to get every hostile faction together, have them sit down, and talk out their differences with Mott leading the discussion. If that doesn’t sound like a child’s attempt at solving peace in the Middle East, I don’t know what does.
And all of that is compelling to be sure. Waltz makes the movie his own and has an eye for some inventive shots while knowing how to direct his actors, but the movie is completely forgettable when he’s off screen. This is a movie about Mott, so when he’s not around the movie seems to deflate. It comes across as a middleman’s House of Cards with none of the charm or energy. But even after a while, Waltz’s charm starts to lose its luster.
As we get closer to discovering the truth behind Elsa’s death, I was curious about how the case was going to end, but at the same time I felt like I lost total interest in it. The movie became less about the solving the case and more about unraveling Mott’s past. By that point, we got a pretty clear picture of what kind of a person Mott is and there’s nothing else to add. The twist at the end only compounded my own feelings towards him and delivered a resolution that felt like an inevitability.
Make no mistake that despite my feelings about the plot, I do think that Waltz and company are fantastic. This is surprisingly a pretty funny movie in the same way that a movie like Vice or The Big Short was funny. The actors convey the ridiculousness of the situation in a way that comes across more like a farce than a thriller, which it 100% is. People in my theater were laughing at how dumb Mott could be and how he was able to get away with so much. But whenever the focus shifted away to proving if Mott was guilty of murder or not, it became almost textbook in its execution.
I think the best comparison I can make about Georgetown is that it’s very similar to one of my favorite Sherlock episodes “The Lying Detective.” In it, we’re introduced to a villain that we know is evil, is smugly evil, revels in his evil, yet is somehow able to fool everyone into thinking that he’s not evil. He pulls the wool over everyone’s eyes and Sherlock slowly starts to lose his mind over how easily everyone falls for the villain’s routine. The problem with that episode is we know how it’s going to conclude. We know Sherlock will be right and the villain will be brought the justice because the season’s disappointing final villain was always waiting in the shadows. The fact that the ending is a forgone conclusion didn’t detract from everything else about the episode thankfully. The acting was sublime, the camera work was spot on, and the buildup/tension was amazing. It succeeded despite itself, and Georgetown is the same way. Georgetown isn’t a revelation, but it’s a very strong work from a first time director. Waltz understands how to create a compelling character and sell him to us and will hopefully serve as stepping stone for how to deliver a compelling character to audiences effectively.