‘GEORGETOWN’ is the film directorial debut of two time Oscar best supporting actor winner Christoph Waltz (for “Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained”, both directed by Quentin Tarantino). It is a true crime story based on the article “The Worst Marriage in Georgetown” published in New York Times Magazine, which is about the murder of wealthy socialite Viola Herms Drath, an influential journalist in political circles..
Waltz himself plays the lead role of Ulrich Mott (based on the real life character of Albrecht Muth, who was convicted of murdering Viola in 2014), a never-do-well who charms a rich and much older widow, Elsa Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave), and becomes the main suspect when his wife suddenly died.
The film shows how he is able to dupe the gullible Elsa into marrying him but it never gets to successfully elucidate on who his character really is. We see him as an intern tour guide in Capitol Hill, but he was fired for being so presumptuous to a group of tourist.
For those who don’t know, Georgetown is a historic district adjacent to Washington DC and famous for Georgetown University. We remember it has classy restaurants on its garden along the Potomac River and, ages ago, we dined in a seafood place there. So it’s not surprising for a dubious character like Mott to gravitate to its uppity culture for him to be able to mingle closely with the rich and powerful.
The film starts at the night of Elsa’s death when she and Mott hosted a dinner where Mott acted more like an attentive butler who cooked their dinner and poured wine for the guests. The film is divided into chapters and from there, the rest of the story is told in flashbacks, intertwined with scenes from Mott’s trial for the death of Elsa.
After he was fired as an intern, Mott stole the ID of his boss so he can gatecrash at the big White House Correspondents’ Dinner where he gets to insinuate himself into the company of Elsa, then 91 years old. She falls for his oily charms and her daughter, Amanda (Annette Bening), a law professor at Harvard no less, naturally disapproves. She tells her mother to find someone closer to her age. But Elsa tells her: “They’re old and boring. Mott is young and interesting.”
At first, she is entertained by Mott’s efforts to ingratiate himself into political maneuverings, even giving him advice on what he should do and who he should talk to. But slowly, she sees through his chicanery and discovers that he is an incorrigible liar. The last straw is when she finds him in bed with another man! She’s so disgusted she throws him out of her house.
The film is at first presented like a whodunit, but it is so easy to deduce that it’s really Mott who is guilty of Elsa’s death from an alleged fall while he is out of their house taking a walk. The film loses steam in its last half hour as all the cards are stacked against Mott, who is a truly repulsive character for whom we as viewers have no sympathy whatsoever.
But still the film is still fairly engaging to watch because of Waltz’ performance. As Mott, he’s quite amusing in his efforts to assert his way into the right circles to push his consulting firm called Eminent Persons Group, with real life movers and shakers in international relations like George Soros and Robert McNamara as members of his board of directors. Then we get perverted delight when we see him getting rebuffed for his spurious stories.
As for Vanessa Redgrave, we loved her the first time we saw her in the 1966 British comedy, “Morgan”, for which she won Cannes best actress and got her first Oscar nomination. We can never forget her title role portrayal in dancer Isadora Duncan’s filmbio, her Oscar-winning role in “Julia” and her singing role as Queen Guenevere in the film version of “Camelot” where he met Franco Nero, who became her husband.
Now 84 years old, she looks perfectly vulnerable as Elsa, the lonely widow who finds companionship in a man she slowly recognizes as a charlatan. What we don’t understand is why, after she has discovered all his pretenses and he disappeared in her life for some years, she still accepts him back and they still remain together until she died. We wish the script got to deeper into the characters. Annette Bening is totally wasted in an underwritten role.
And as an actor-director, we’re afraid Waltz is no Clint Eastwood, who, we admit, is really one tough act to follow. He plays the role of Mott, the duplicitous sleaze, to perfection, but when it comes to his directing chores, you’d wish he were able to bring more suspense in his storytelling that has betrayal and deception in it, and also more enlightening details about the tragic affair of Elsa and her ill-fated marriage to the fraud that Mott is.