Quick Movie Reviews (Human Capital & The Other Lamb)

Human Capital

It wasn’t that long ago where the go-to gimmick for indie dramas was the “everything’s connected” plot, where different stories would intertwine, seen in films like Crash or many of the films in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s filmography. Director Marc Meyers and screenwriter Oren Moverman’s Human Capital brings that structure back and with steadily mixed results. Taking its strong cast into a fizzling narrative. Human Capital is divided into three parts, each covering the same stretch of a couple of days. The first finds struggling real estate broker Drew Hagel (Liev Schreiber) as he persuades financier Quint Manning (Peter Sarsgaard) to let him buy into a pricey hedge fund. In part two, Quint’s bored socilate wife Carrie (Marisa Tomei) contemplates buying an old theater — and having an affair. In the third, Drew’s daughter Shannon (Maya Hawke) becomes overprotective toward her drug-dealing classmate (Alex Wolff).

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Image via Vertical Entertainment

All three narrative strands are bound by a tragedy that opens the movie: a hit-and-run accident for which one of these characters is responsible. Human Capital is also concerned with the subtle gradations of privilege, between the mega-rich Manning family and the merely upper-middle-class Hagels. But throughout it’s still asking the question, Which one of them did it? The question is supposed to loom over every moment, but, frankly, when the payoff to the movie’s mystery finally arrives its pretty uneventful, especially after all the buildup. And everything in between comes with vast ups and downs. Also, through each pass to a different storyline, the movie continually loses track of a key figure: the victim of the hit-and-run (Dominic Colón). The movie might argue that making him negligible is the entire point. But, that point is lost by the filmmakers supposed interest in a true class crisis. Taking all three storylines that might start gripping, and slowly squeezing out much of their potential until they eventually peter out. Operating with the energy of a shrug, Human Capital takes its three interconnected stories, its talented performers, and loses track of all its drama, stakes, and potential that came with them.

Grade: C+

The Other Lamb

Focusing on a cult of one man, known as The Shepherd (Michiel Huisman), and many women, The Other Lamb, the English-language debut of Polish filmmaker Malgorzata Szumowska, sees each one of its women as one of two things: a wife (who wears purple) or a daughter (who wears blue). In particular, our protagonist is Selah (Raffey Cassidy), a daughter. And though she’s a teenager, she has a clear understanding, in some unspoken way, that in every facet she’s competing against the women all around her — that they’re all grasping for the attention and approval of The Shepherd, as he looms over their shared lives of seclusion and servitude. The film overall unfolds almost entirely from Selah’s perspective, blinkered until it isn’t. When not locking in close on the burning intensity of her gaze, it’s warping the reality of the world through her eyes, via visions of watery doom, nightmares of dead animals, and the way the wilderness itself seems to bend and stretch, leafless trees sloping at odd angles like something out of a grim fairy tale.

The best dramas about cults, like Sean Durkin’s drenched-in-dread Martha Marcy May Marlene, demystify brainwashing; their dark fascination lies in the insidious process of breaking believers down, step by step, until nothing remains but zealous devotion. The Other Lamb, on the other hand, is often as foggy as the forest surrounding the group’s encampment on the hows of The Shepherd’s indoctrination. Though as the film progresses, shame becomes a weapon that the women being to use on each other, and the film angles toward a collective realization that they all have a common enemy and it’s the man who’s created the culture to his benefit. It isn’t difficult to read the film as an allegory for society at large, particularly when it comes to religious orthodoxy, it’s just the filmmakers don’t color much of the details.

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Image via IFC Films

The Other Lamb gets the most out of its thick green locale, and Huisman makes a persuasive monster, but there isn’t enough attention paid to how The Flock (as the women are called) operates or a convincing arc to how the headstrong Selah can bring herself to turn against a cult that she’s known since birth. The shock effects of Selah’s visions may have a visceral punch, but they don’t add the kinds of detail the film so desperately needs. The cult represents the patriarchy without amounting to a specific world of its own. With the subtly of a train derailment, The Other Lamb brings positives to the table but they aren’t enough to overcome the film’s continual reinforced, on-the-nose telling of its themes and lack of needed detail.

Grade: C+

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