The Debt (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Debt (2011)

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I wish Mirren were as deliberate in her choice of movie roles as she was in deciding not to have children.

Matthew Vaughn's name attached to any project does not exactly inspire the biggest leap of confidence from me anymore.  He doesn't direct, but the lethargic feel of The Debt reeks of his continuing encroachment on cinema as the bland man's James Mangold.  Now, considering James Mangold himself is a very meat and potatoes creator in Hollywood, it means that any film touched by this point on is destined to become a bland flavor of average.

True, there's very little that director John Madden (Proof, Shakespeare In Love) does to liven up the proceedings, but since Vaughn has a shared writing and producing credit it's clear he had a larger than normal hand in the creative process.  To what purpose?  Vaughn started off strong and has made the fantastic utterly predictable in action (see the dreadfully boring moments in between Xavier and Magneto bickering in First Class).  Now he's brought to fruition a film with nothing to say, a confusing way of presenting its bit of nothing, combined with a touch of anemic acting and a plot which recalls the much superior Munich from 2005.

Given its obvious inspiration, The Debt is a flat piece of film-making.  I've not seen the 2007 Israeli original, but it seems there are large sections of the American remake where it feels cultural tensions should have been felt.  Instead we have a badly connected flashback structure with the "present" featuring the likes of Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson, and the "past" a more prominently featured trio with Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas.

The shadows only conceal the shameful sex scenes lurking in the corner, waiting patiently to disappoint and bore.

The Debt centers on Rachel's (Chastain) attempt at moving on from the botched kidnapping of a Nazi war criminal with the aid of David (Worthington) and Stefan (Csokas).  Though Rachel, to give Mirren something to do in the "present" scenes, is made blissfully unaware of the Nazi's escape and goes hunting him down while Wilkinson looks on disapprovingly.

I had not the foggiest clue what in the hell was going on for most of The Debt.  The flashback structure, which occasionally borrows from a book written about Rachel's life, declines to provide the audience with key pieces of information about their mission.  The issuing being that these questions are "Why are they doing this?" and "How do they feel about kidnapping someone?"  Instead the film decides to answer "How badass does Helen Mirren look with a scar?" and "Will I get a sex scene?" much sooner.

So those crucial emotional connections are barely made when the film has been running for an hour.  Munich, by proxy, allowed time to get to know Eric Bana's infiltrators before finally sending them out on assassination missions.  Instead we have many scenes of the crew training while looking serious and avoiding all the sexual tension building in the room.  The tension is not really provided by the performances, but rather my annoyance at wishing the film would just get it over with when David and Rachel assume identities as a married couple.

Wilkinson was wasted, shoving any development aside for another sex scene.

That still doesn't explain the second unnecessary sex scene later on when it flashes forward to the "present" and Helen Mirren is being a cat-burglar.  This being an image which, I only now realized, is infinitely cooler to read and write about than it is to experience.

The film doesn't move so much as drone on into completion and the performances, quite sadly, are in-line.  Worthington is the worst of the "past" bunch, somehow showcasing less charisma this time around than he did with his audience surrogate role in Avatar.  Chastain and Csokas are luckier in the sense that I didn't notice their charisma instead of the gaping lack of it.  Mirren and Wilkinson are compelling, as always, just left in a sea of poor material with nowhere to go.

Producers need to stop giving Mirren assault weapons and fight scenes.  Between this and RED, it's clear her strength lies in playing queens and Ayn Rand, not firing guns.  Vaughn, on the other hand, needs to stop dragging down other creative personalities into his pit of bland.  Either that, or take a good long look in the mirror and ask, before every project, "Am I doing or saying anything artistically noteworthy or original?"

No.  Not this time.

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The Debt (2011)

Directed by John Madden.
Screenplay by Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman, and Peter Straughan.
Starring Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas.

Posted by Andrew

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