Movie review: the Debt
Could someone please explain to me where the title of this film comes from?
So, the Debt. I like a good spy thriller, and this has a lot of the key elements for one, but seemed to end up kind of flaccid. Not that it was bad. I don’t feel like I got ripped off on the $7 matinee ticket I bought. Just that it is deep down in the Mediocre Trench and is pretty much running out of oxygen.
I will say that part of the problem is ever since the Berlin Wall fell spy movies based on the Cold War have very little interest to me. Show me something in WWII, when we were actually fighting a tangible enemy and lives hung in the balance and I am there. I grew up during the Cold War, but honestly even then it didn’t have the punch to really pull me in. If the West pulled off an intelligence coup then we somehow gained some more credibility with our allies and neutral countries? Big deal. If the Russians pulled off something amazing we lost a bit of technology or some influence with someone? In the long run who cares? The entirety of the Cold War felt like we were playing poker for matchsticks. Now that it is over the stakes seemed kind of dumb and pointless. (CCCP image courtesy of the political t-shirts category).
This is probably unfair to the men and women who struggled back in those days, but at the time I was more worried about getting beat up again in the locker room of my Jr. High than the Russians invading.
That being said, I am very interested in seeing Nazi war criminals captured and brought to justice, which this movie was ultimately about. That should have held my interest, but somehow did not. I won’t spoil it, but if you see it you will probably understand what I mean.
Anyway, the Debt. It starts off in Tel Aviv in 1997 where three former Israeli operatives are being honored for their part in bringing the notorious Surgeon of Birkenau, a Nazi doctor guilty of horrific war crimes in a concentration camp during WWII, to justice in1965. The main character, Rachel, has a daughter who has written a book about her mother’s and father’s exploits in East Berlin. They flash back to the doctor trying to escape custody and Rachel shooting him dead as he ran.
However, things aren’t what they seem, starting with the suicide of David, the third member of the team. We start flashing back and forth as secrets are revealed and literally a ton of character development is dumped onto the screen. I always bitch when the movie scrimps on the character development in favor of the story, but this movie has gone too far in the other direction. We spend so much time on background and character that it honestly gets in the way of the plot. There were multiple points when a simple line or two of expository dialog would have alleviated the “what the hell is going on?” feeling I was suffering from but instead we get to find out more about where they all came from. The ironic part is the main character, Rachel (played in 1997 by Helen Mirren – Arthur, Red, and a bunch of crap I never heard of including Legend of the Guardians: the Owls of Ga’Hoole(?) and in 1965 by the very hot Jessica Chastain, whom I loved in the Help but still absolutely hate for Tree of Life (Tree of Uber Pretentious Boring Crap)) is the one we learn the least about. We find out about David’s whole family dying in a concentration camp and Stephan’s ambition to succeed, but except for her mother’s death hardly anything about Rachel. It doesn’t help that her performance was kind of flat and dull, as were her costars. The Nazi doctor (Jesper Christensen – Quantum of Solace, Casino Royale) was the most interesting character on the screen. Of course, I am always more interested in the villains, but still.
Anyway, there is a kind of interesting attempt to jump the Berlin wall that fails and reduces the movie to three people trying to keep one man prisoner in a dumpy apartment. Boring crap ensues. Nothing gets blown up. The action is brutally abbreviated and resolves almost nothing. Big secrets are revealed. The writers took a big swig of deus ex machina Cola to pull an ending out of their ass that was almost ludicrous. Honestly, if you are going to write a story about real secret agents who don’t have the ability to fight off an army of bad guys and have to resolve issues in the real world, can you spare us the amazing coincidence ending please?
The stars. The 1997 actors all did a great job in the performance, as did the Nazi Doctor. One star. Good story concept. One star. Subtitled for most of the dialog really worked. One star. The Nazi doctor being a gynecologist and young Rachel being examined by him as a means of getting close and confirming his identity was a super creepy twist on the plot that I thought was really cool (ever see Dead Ringers?). One star. Jessica Chastain is super cute to me, as was the girl they got to play her adult daughter. One star. They didn’t give the agents any James Bond-esque powers, and the East Berlin stuff seemed pretty accurate. One star. Total: six stars.
The black holes. For a spy “thriller” there was hardly any tension built whatsoever. Seriously, I’ve had more intense Thanksgiving dinners. One black hole. The 1965 acting was for the most part flat and dull, with occasional spikes that were almost over the top. One black hole. While I understand the the story was intended to be delivered in flashbacks, it seemed like they really liked jumping back and forth a lot in ways that bugged me. One black hole. The 1997 agents and the 1965 agents really didn’t look a lot like each other, and it took me about 1/3rd of the movie to figure out which of the two men in 1965 was which in 1997. One black hole. Overall an interesting premise and talented group of actors that really failed to intrigue me, the blame for which I lay firmly in the lap of the director (John Madden – Shakespeare in Love in 1998 and nothing but garbage since. What the hell was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin?). One black hole. Total: five black holes.
So a grand total of one star, a really blase and mediocre score. I won’t say don’t go see it. If you are looking for something to do it will fill an afternoon. I just can’t say go see it. Honestly, I would wait for NetFlix streaming.
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