Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Debt (2011)

     There is a compelling story wedged into The Debt (2011), but I cannot come to say that it is delivered in a way to maintain interest or allow for the dramatic tension that should be there.  Part of the problem – or maybe even most of it – comes from director John Madden's choice to let the action and espionage remain thoroughly grounded in the realm of reality.  For a film that was not short on known actors or budget, it was a daring choice.  Unfortunately, it made the Mossad agents at the center of the story seem ill-prepared and amateurish – even more than the events of the story would suggest.
     Having not seen the 2007 original version of this movie, I cannot comment on how closely the remake hews to original plot points.  I will note that the manner in which the story is told does little to build dramatic tension.  While the cast is solid (somehow Sam Worthington keeps getting work, and that is something I cannot explain), there is such a disconnect between how the characters' looks and mannerisms in 1965 and 1997 that I had a difficult time convincing myself that they are supposed to be the same people.
     There are some really good moments in The Debt.  Jessica Chastain (as Rachel in 1965) portrays vulnerability and resolve in a quite compelling manner.  Actually, the scenes that showcase the vulnerability were so well constructed and acted as to make me decidedly uncomfortable in watching them.  Likewise, the attempted escape from East Berlin is quite entertaining.
     Still, I don't think there is enough in The Debt to make it worth recommending.  Maybe I did not take the proper approach in watching this movie.  But it felt more leaden than mature.  And even though the scope of the story should be large and inspiring, it played much smaller.  Ultimately, the impact and weight of the original mission doesn't seem to translate through in the English version.  Madden may have assumed that an audience will know how important the capture and trial of a Nazi war criminal is to Israelis as the nation was establishing itself, but he failed to bring that feeling to the screen.  And that is where I think The Debt failed the most.
     It is not a bad movie.  Nobody is likely to feel that their time has been wasted in watching it.  But I would suspect that most people who see it will wonder why it isn't much better than the end result.

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