Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Debt (the 114 minutes that they stole from me)

The Debt
Directed by John Madden
Full production details on imdb

Thoroughly mediocre against raised expectations. Fun if you're easily gripped and can tolerate silly accents.

The characters are Israeli, it's set in Israel, they read Hebrew and there are Magen Davids everywhere. So why, oh why, do we need to have every character adopting a dubious and unique accent? It's clear what language they are 'speaking,' there is no purpose to this. The only logical argument I can see is that in a mixed nationality cast it is not clear which accent should be used for consistency, so why not settle for the accent of the language we are meant to imagine they are speaking. I'll tell you why not - because none of them can do it well enough and it just draws attention to the pretence, makes it forced and hammy. Better to have them all speak Hebrew in line with the German and Ukrainian segments. Or perhaps they thought we wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

So, The Debt and I didn't exactly get off to a great start.

As I attempt to put the accent issue aside, an unexpected incident with a lorry in the first ten minutes raises tensions and the film looks set to fulfil its promise of gripping international thriller addressing sensitive and powerful issues, psychological, political and ethical. Pitched like Munich, the ingredients are all assembled - decent period set peices, a charming collection of actors, a great premise (the book launch of the daughter of a retired mossad agent causes the spies to reflect on their defining mission... with perhaps not all as it seems), nice cinematography, Thomas Newman soundtrack - standard.

Despite the stifling accents, the actors do come through, particularly the young trio, with the older generation delivering the slightly arch and tired retired spies-with-a-secret. There are a couple of nicely intense moments betweent the young men and their captive both linked through their cruelty - one on the part of the captive, another on the part of the kidnapper.

There are some scenes of nicely built tension, although in each there is no real suspense as the outcome is foretold either because of the nature of the flashback rooted plot, or because it was otherwise predictable.

So, the gripping internation thriller? The sensitive and powerful issues? Despite so much promise and a few intense moments, The Debt never realises its full potential. The plot is ultimately fairly boring, its twists and turns predictable. So many issues brushed passed, and not in an understated way, in a manner which makes it seem as if even the film's creators missed the point. So much of the detail consists of overused tropes - the angsty love triangle among people confined, the kidnapper-victim relations. So many issues half touched and never fully addressed, even the realisation of the titular debt is ultimately dissapointing and the soundtrack is one of Newman's more bland offerings. Episodes of Deep Space Nine have dealt more convincingly with the ethics of war criminals.

There are many better and more meaningful thrillers out there, but this could be entertaining if you are easily gripped, have nothing better to do on a lazy Sunday, and adequately lower your expectations.

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