Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Debt

The Debt (John Madden, 2011) Remake of the Assaf Bernstein 2007 original out of Israel.

A team of three Israeli agents are tasked with bringing a concentration camp doctor, Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) to justice.  The team, two men and a woman (Marton Csokas, Sam Worthington—his best film performance, one should say—, and Jessica Chastain) must find the man, who's now an OB/GYN in Berlin, kidnap him, and hold him him until they can transport him out of the country.

Things do not go well. 

They manage to grab the butcher, but end up hold up in their apartment with the man, while delays keep the four antagonists in close proximity.  The cops are stepping up the investigation looking for him, rather than having things cool down.  Everyone is trapped like rats, all the better for everyone to get to know each other better.  Then the fun begins.

It's thirty years later and the three (played by Tom Wilkinson, Ciaràn Hinds and Helen Mirren, respectively) are being feted at an event celebrating the publication of a book in which the incident figures, written by the female agent's daughter.  The three are praised, glad-handed and lionized, despite the fact that one of the three is missing.

And the story isn't really true.

John Madden is not the best fit for the film, despite his previous television work.  But he gets the milieu down, and the layered performances of the principles benefit from his attention to detail (although one doesn't feel that the performances between older and younger selves merge too successfully).  Ultimately, the film feels unsatisfying, and not just in the sense of the downbeat subject matter.  

One is left feeling next to nothing, except in the uselessness of the exercise—where the mission is to fulfill commitments rather than doing any real good—to exact revenge, rather than justice.

Some lip-service is paid to duty, to country, but one gets the impression that's merely a card to be played in a battle of wills.  In the end, its a case of diminishing returns:  if justice can't be achieved, revenge will do; if that doesn't happen, the best to do is keep up appearances for morale and PR. If one can accept that such a conspiracy of silence can be maintained for 30 years without corroborating evidence—a not-small consideration (especially given these agents)—the movie still feels empty and unsatisfying.

1 comment:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I'm on something of a time margin, so some quick observations. Agree with your closing of the film feeling unsatisfying, although I do give credit to Madden for doing a more than fair job. I wonder if you feel, like I did, that the film might have been more rewarding if it had stayed in the past? Even with the good performers of the present-day the contemporary arc REALLY doesn't work for me - and I feel the younger actors upstage all their older counterparts.

I liked it in parts, but it is ultimately a bit lacking in effect, where it should be.