Sometimes a film benefits from being based on real events and telling a shocking real life story exactly as it happens. Often the truth is stranger than fiction. That only works though if there’s some under-ridding moral or truth that’s emphasized by the insanity of the story. Whether it’s something like Pain and Gain or The Wolf of Wallstreet, we need to see the lesson these characters didn’t learn in real life. If there’s no catharsis, there’s no revelation.
That’s very much the case with Georgetown, a film starring and directed by the great Christoph Waltz, that tells a loosely based true crime story of a real murder case that happened in the Washington DC suburbs.
Waltz is of course one of Hollywood’s most underutilized actors. When he works with Quentin Tarantino, he delivers career defining performances like Waltz’s work in Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained. Besides that, his work is mostly perfunctory, shallow and cheap. He’s a great actor whose talent is wasted in projects like Green Hornet and Spectre. Directors just don’t seem to know how to utilize him.
Georgetown is his directorial debut and it’s not a surprising pick in that regard. The script reads like an actor’s-script, if that makes sense. It’s a performance oriented story about an eclectic character who has to act his way through various situations, put on different faces and play games with the people around him to keep up appearances. In other words, the script is very showy and perfect for an actor who wants to strut his talent.
The story is based on the real life story of Albrecht Gero Muth, a middle aged German national who made his reputation in Washington as a veteran and hero of the Iraq War who was convicted of murdering his 91 year old wife Viola Herms Drath in 2014. The real life story of Muth and Drath is bonkers and if Georgetown has any major strengths it’s in just how well it depicts the strangeness of the real life story.
Part of that comes in the slow reveal of information. As the story starts, our renamed characters Mott and Brecht are living together in Washington DC. When Brecht is discovered dead one morning by Mott, he immediately reports it to the police. Brecht’s daughter immediately suspects foul play and calls the police to investigate the situation, who fall down a strange rabbit hole as they discover just how strange and complex Mott’s life is.
As it turns out, the fifty year old Mott married the elderly Brecht to influence his personal social standing in the Washington DC establishment. The two work together to setup a kind of DC based consulting firm that helps arrange meetings and network powerful groups of people together. Doing this, Mott quickly turns himself into one of the most quietly influential people in Washington, capable of sitting down with almost anyone and proposing policy solutions just by name-dropping his associations with George Soros.
The first two thirds of the film is incredibly entertaining and fascinating. Waltz isn’t exactly a visionary with his camera but the script he’s working with was pretty solid for the most part and does an amazing job of building up this strange mystique and story. We constantly get the sense that there’s more to Mott than he’s letting on and that the murder charge may just be one small part in a larger story that’s tied to his enigmatic and strange life of socializing, ambition and military service.
In doing so, it comes very close to saying some very biting and scathing things about the nature of DC politics. What does it mean that THIS GUY can talk and BS his way into the halls of power just by networking and marrying into them?
As Armund White writes: “It peeks inside D.C.’s hidden business — the dinner parties, glad-handing, and comfortable affluence. Here are the private delusions and personal vendettas that mean so much to the professional lives of journos and politicos.”
If I have any problem with the read of Georgetown though, it’s that it glimpses without revealing much. It’s not deep satire merely to glimpse at the pomp and pretense of the elite. One needs to plum the depths of their hypocrisies and degeneracy. The film ultimately needs to use the character of Mott to display the intense rot of DC politics by way of his ability to traverse them.
The problem ultimately just comes down to that ending. The film feels like it is building up some sort of huge dramatic reveal or mystery but the ending collapses in on itself. The ultimate revelation of the film is that there is no great reveal. This strange story of lies and artificial surfaces gives way like an artificial surface and says that the characters involved are all shallow frauds, that there’s nothing to them and that the mystique surrounding them is an act.
Maybe that’s a clever point but traditionally stories like this need a more cathartic revelation. Goodfellas and The Godfather Part II both explore moral deprivation and soul destroying evil but those films earn their dark final moments. We understand the lesson of these peoples lives that they failed to grasp. Georgetown wants to be like that but it has nothing unique or shocking special to say about it’s lead character.
The final reveal should’ve been the beginning of our story. Instead of trying to drag the audience along the way it does, we should see the rot and the artifice from the beginning. We should see the fraud from the start so that the emptiness of Mott’s actions as he’s able to profit from other people’s shallowness and greed.
Instead, it renders the film quite empty and anticlimactic by the time of its final scene.