Peter Sarsgaard Leads a 'Coup!' on a Wealthy Man's Life
Colorful and charismatic, 'Coup!' is a comedy played theatrically.
Coup! is currently playing on the festival circuit.
A newly hired cook who calls his employer a “Nancy boy” under his breath might not have his own best interests at heart. Assuming that he’s got something to lose, of course. When the Spanish Flu ravaged the country in the early twentieth century, almost everyone had everything to lose…except for the wealthy. If a righteous man saw things from the outside looking in, then he could cause some big trouble. In Coup!, a fight between the haves and the have-nots ensues on the property of a wealthy family whose head of household, a left-leaning populist journalist, is on the brink of a potential political career. If there’s one thing he doesn’t need, it’s a class struggle in his home. Big trouble for sure.
A comedy with some melodramatic-type theatricality, Coup! Is a sweet surprise. Being fortunate enough to watch it early with the blessing of its filmmakers, I went into the movie knowing only that it starred the great Peter Sarsgaard, who plays the righteous man of mischief who enters the fray of a rich man’s comfort zone. Sarsgaard knows the assignment here and then some, playing a mysterious chef who stirs the household labor into a mini-union with charm, with volume, and with a smile for mischief. The closest role of his that I found comparable to this one, in my mind, was that of the timid and eventually monstrous scientist in Green Lantern. An odd thought, I know, but I swear that there’s a fun thread connecting the two. A thread that I will save for another day.
My point is, that Sarsgaard is having genuine fun with genuine purpose. He’s not chewing scenery for the sake of it, or chewing anything at all, but rather he’s finding the thrill and the chill within a character who has bottled up tragedy and now lives life by his rules, and all on the surface. A defense mechanism? Maybe, but no matter. It’s just an awesome performance.
Not to be outshined is Billy Magnussen, who plays a man with real money but fake ideals. He’s a high-profile journalist who types fire and brimstone about joining protests and demanding policy changes to the epidemic response. Of course, he’s nowhere near a protest nor is he in conversation with any politician, but that won’t deter him from crafting what he believes are white lies for the greater good. Straight out of Charles Foster Kane’s playbook really, but minus any spine or backbone. Magnussen gives life to someone oh so pathetic beneath everything, but all so prepared for trophy and triumph.
Absolutely does Sarsgaard’s cook have a field day with him, and relentlessly so. White lies turn to white privilege turns to scraping meat off the floor. Coup! is a paradigm shift done on one cursed soul, and Magnussen wears both the initial brash bravado of a hero and the eventual pitiful collapse of a loser with the burden of dragging a big stone across town. Heavy is the head, I mean. And heavy is how Magnussen treats the turmoil. Too heavy? Not at all, but loud enough for the crowd in the back row.
It’s a devious delight of a film, but if Coup! has anything going against it, the false endings would be that thing. As the story begins to close, rugs are pulled out from under, and the movie carries on. And carries on. It’s not annoying or frustrating, just a minor nitpick from someone who shouldn’t apply a fandom-style fan fiction mindset to things out of his control. But the dagger in Coup! had already turned multiple times, and a fitting finale was already in sight. Still, fret not, as what does end up happening is a fine coda on its own. Taken altogether, Coup! is a complete riot and completely entertaining. Anytime a rich jerk gets the shaft, you’ll find me having a good time. No trouble at all. 3.5/5
Sincerely Yours in Moviegoing,
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