Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Debt

The Debt has gotten mixed reviews, and rightly so.  While it is a solid film, it is not perfect, but it is "enjoyable," if such a term could be used for a film that centers around the abduction of a Nazi war criminal (delightfully portrayed by Jesper Christensen) and the eventual aftermath of his capture.  As one elderly coupled said at the film's conclusion, "That was depressing." 

I went into the film with zero expectations.  I enjoy a good thriller, and on that front I can't complain.  I also enjoy a movie that presents a moral dilemma, which this does.  Unfortunately, I have not not seen the original version that this film was based on (which came out in 2007), as it was never released theatrically here, and I missed it on Sundance.  Because of that, I can't comment on whether or not the original source material worked better, but I can say with some certainity that this one could've used some tweaking.

The cast worked well, with standout Christensen playing a Nazi Hannibal Lecter without the ham Hopkins brought to that role.  Helen Mirren was as good as expected, too.  There is also plenty of character backstory to go around, some of which seemed like it would only help the movie if it were more deeply explored.  We get mentions of car bombs and extra-marital affairs, which do well to flesh out the characters, but I wanted to know more.  And then there is the problem of the split timeline.

Normally this disjointed type of narrative offers a unique way of telling a film.  Sometimes it can be confusing, though that's not the problem here.  The hazards that come with this film's split timeline is that the section which deals with the mission of three Mossad operatives trying to capture a Nazi war criminal plays much better than the storyline that deals with the problems of their actions.  Both stories should've been equally compelling, and if they couldn't be, the movie should've focused only on one.  Because so much screen time was given to the original mission (as it should've been because this is where most of the action takes place), we don't get the same sense of importance when we are returned to the movie's present day.

The Debt is still a solid thriller that asks some important questions about lying and taking responsibility for one's actions.  It also doesn't pander to the 18-34 male market that Hollywood seems to routinely pimp itself out for.  It is a movie actually made for adults ... adults who understand the importance of truth as well as the times you don't want to use it.  It is slow and methodical, and that is also part of the reason not all reviews have been favorable.  The current audience has been raised on (and expects) bloodshed and explosions every eight minutes lest one's attention turns to his or her cellphone.  Here we have characters actually discussing their actions and where their responsiblity lies.  God or country?  It's a great question, and this movie provides some fodder for the answer, but like the reviews, those answers are going to be mixed.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I paid to see this movie.


  1. I enjoyed the movie, but had criticisms similar to yours.

    The suicide made absolutely no sense to me, especially with how driven the character was. Yeah, there was mention of some "sickness", but I still think the suicide was simply used for shock value.

    Also, this quote kept going through my head throughout the movie:

    "How many more movies do we need about the Holocaust? I mean, we get it, it was grim."

    Where are all the movies about the holocaust/genocide that was foundation of the birth of the United States of America?

    Now, that would be some quality entertainment! Especially in 3-D!

  2. The suicide seemed more jarring than anything else. Being that it was at the beginning of the film, the audience has zero context to put it in. Is this man good? Bad? What is going on? By the time we are drawn back to it in mention, it hardly matters anymore.

    I don't know if I would call this a "Holocaust" movie, though. It didn't play that way to me. In fact, if I knew nothing about Nazis, this wouldn't have taught me much. We know this Nazi doesn't like Jews and did experimentation on them.

    As for the birth of the US, I seriously doubt anyone is going to ever do a big-budget (3D would be great!) take on the real history behind that. If there is one thing Americans hate, it is feeling responsible and guilty. That's why The Help is doing so well.