Opening today at nearly every multiplex in Raleigh and the Triangle area:
THE DEBT (Dir. John Madden, 2011)
How can a film that features impassioned performances from such acting heavyweights as Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Sam Worthington among others, be such a dreary drag?
I believe it has something to do with the plotting. THE DEBT goes back and forth from 1966 to 1997 to tell the story of 3 Mossad secret agents (Mirren, Wilkinson, and Ciarán Hinds) who have been keeping a secret about the fate of a Nazi war criminal (Jesper Christensen) they had once kidnapped in East Berlin.
Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Marton Csokas play the agents in the '60s who track Christensen who is known as the Surgeon of Birkenau. When he escapes after a brutal fight with Chastain, they agree to lie about his death. 30 years later they learn that Christensen may still be alive, so Mirren travels to the hospital he's reportedly in to finally finish him off forever.
The movie miserably goes through the motions, with no sense of a compelling narrative. It's perplexingly tension-free especially considering the subject matter. There is a strand about a love triangle between the 3 leads, but it's handled in such a murky unaffected manner that it feels like it doesn't matter. Maybe that's because it doesn't.
It also has one of the most unsatisfying endings of a drama that I've ever seen.
The premise of revenge on an aging Nazi war criminal is really tired at this point too. I sure hope it was handled better in the 2007 Israeli film that this is a remake of. As gritty as it is with solid work by a fine cast, THE DEBT adds nothing notable to the genre.
The studio (Focus Features) must have known that too by dumping it into theaters now (on a Wednesday for some inexplicable reason) instead of waiting for closer to Christmas when movies dealing with monsters of the holocaust usually drop.