Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: The Debt

The Debt is the ultimate exercise in misdirection.  Not so much because it is a film full of plot-twists (because it’s not), but because it has you thinking that you are watching one thing when you’re really watching something else entirely.  You see, the movie possesses the three key Hollywood elements that make you think you are viewing movie greatness:

1. An esteemed cast featuring players known for dramatic roles (i.e. Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds, Jessica Chastain)

2. Heavy hitting subject matter set against the backdrop of a major historical event – Mossad secret agents capturing a Nazi War criminal in East Berlin post World War 2.

3. People with European accents.

The misdirection then resides in the fact that you are not really watching a good movie at all.  In fact, the movie – like a lot of the accents in the film – is just plain bad. 

For me, that epiphany came during the third act when the misdirection faded and I realized that I was being lulled into apathy.  It didn’t matter that writer Matthew Vaughn and director John Madden (not that John Madden) had thrown everything but the kitchen sink at me.  Troubled pasts, a festering love triangle, hand-to-hand combat, covert operations, a scandalous cover up – not one of these element made me care a lick about how things would play out.

Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciaran Hinds are pedestrian as the three Mossad agents.  Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington – as the flashback younger versions of the aforementioned trio do not fare much better.  If for nothing else, at least that makes for consistency.  The issue at hand here is that the premise, the material, the composition of the cast all seem to aspire to achieve some great level of film-making, but no one is seemingly up to the task of stepping up.

When done well, drab lighting and slow pacing can be considered art.  When done poorly it is lazy directing and cinematography.  And while walking around a film with one persistent scowl may work for Christian Bale, for the rest of Hollywood it comes off as a half-hearted attempt at exuding gravitas.  And so the peril the protagonists face and the claustrophobia of their situation never really manifest onscreen.  In fact, I found myself wishing that someone would put Jesper Christensen’s Doktor Bernhardt down for the count - not so much for his crimes against humanity but more so that the end credits would roll.

Unfortunately, it takes a good two hours for that to happen.  Had I not paid for the digital rental, I would have pulled the ripcord long before things faded to black.  I cannot recommend this movie – neither as a rental nor for cable TV.  I never thought I would utter these words in regards to a Helen Mirren movie, but I preferred her performance in Arthur

Standout Performance: If I had to pick one person, I would say Jessica Chastain.  But since I don’t, I will say none.


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