Georgetown is one of those films that’s been around for a while.
The movie, which is the directorial debut of Christoph Waltz. was originally filmed in 2017. It made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019, where it received respectful reviews. It played in at least some parts of Europe in 2020. But it didn’t get a limited theatrical release in America until May of 2021 and it was released on VOD just a few days later. Some of the delays in the film’s release were undoubtedly due to the uncertainty bred by the COVID lockdowns. And some of it was probably due to no one being sure how to market a true crime film about murder amongst the rich and powerful of Washington D.C. As such, Georgetown didn’t really get much attention when it was released. That’s a shame, because it’s actually a pretty good movie, a clever mix of social satire and legal drama.
Christoph Waltz not only directs but also stars as Ulrich Mott. Mott is a somewhat ludicrous figure. His past is shadowy. He claims to have served as a member of the French Foreign Legion, though his breaks down in tears after a snarky State Department official points out that none of Mott’s medals appear to be genuine. Mott claims to have a lot of powerful and influential acquaintances, even though many of them only know him because he aggressively approached them at a party and forced them to take one of his business cards. He occasionally wears a eye patch, even though he doesn’t need it. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Mott announces that he has been named a brigadier general in the Iraqi army and he claims to be a lobbyist for the new government. Mott is also the head of a consulting firm called the Eminent Persons Group, which is later described as just being a Ponzi scheme for the rich and powerful.
It’s easy to make fun of Ulrich Mott but, throughout the film, we watch as he arranges dinners with men like future Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard. He meets with former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. He mentions the he knows George Soros. Mott is well-known among America’s elite, if not exactly respected. This is almost entirely due to his marriage to the much older Elsa Breht (Vanessa Redgrave), a journalist who is, at one point, described as being “the queen of Georgetown society.”
When the 91 year-old Elsa is discovered dead at the foot of her staircase, the police originally think that she may have just suffered from an accidental fall. Mott, however, declares that it’s obvious that Elsa was murdered by his enemies and that he will dedicate the rest of his life to tracking them down and getting justice. Meanwhile, Elsa’s daughter (played by Annette Bening) is convinced that Mott murdered her mother. The police agree and Ulrich Mott is soon on trial. Mott’s main concern is that he be allowed to wear his red beret in the courtroom. After all, it’s apart of his uniform as a brigadier general in the Iraqi army.
Flashing back and forth from the past to the present, Georgetown is primarily a character study of a man who has little talent and not much of a conscience but who does have a lot of ambition and a lot of charm. Mott works his way up into the upper channels of D.C. society through a combination of flattery and compulsive lying and Waltz gives such a charismatic performance in the lead role that you believe every minute of it. He’s appealingly vulnerable when he approaches the first clients for what will become the Eminent Persons Group and it’s hard not to sympathize with him when he breaks down in tears after being exposed, for the first time, as a fraud. However, as the film progresses, we’re left to wonder if the vulnerability and tears were genuine or if they were just another part of Ulrich Mott’s performance. Mott is both diabolically arrogant and almost compulsively self-destructive and Waltz does a great job of portraying those two seemingly conflicting sides of his personality. He’s well-matched by Vanessa Redgrave, who makes Elsa’s love for Mott feel real and credible. Watching the film, one can understand why Elsa initially believed in Mott and also why she stayed with him even as she discovered that he was never quite who he claimed to be,
Georgetown is nicely done portrait of duplicity and murder among America’s elite. It’s both sharply satiric and, in its way, rather heart-breaking. It definitely deserves more attention that it originally received.