Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What I Saw: The Debt (84th Oscar Race)

What I Saw: The Debt

The Debt is part spy thriller and part philosophical reflection on the creation of truth and history. It is a remake of the 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov, which I unfortunately have not seen.

Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren play a single character, separated by 30 years time. Chastain gets the majority of screen time, and gives a fantastic performance showing the unique dangers and struggles facing a young female agent, while Mirren’s role wonderfully showcases the regrets and doubts that accompany the passage of time. Together, they make a strong case that Hollywood should cast more women in thoughtful action thrillers like this.

And while his role is much less sympathetic, Jesper Christensen gives a haunting and layered performance as the Nazi villain that our protagonists have been sent to capture.

But my favorite thing about the movie was the reaction that it instilled in the audience. You see, it just so happened that I saw this movie in a theater filled with talkers. You know, those annoying people who feel the need to explain what is happening as the movie is playing. Only this time the movie beat them. I will not be giving away any spoilers in this review, but I will say that just as three or four audience members felt the need to state what should have been painfully obvious to anyone paying the slightest attention, the movie took an epistemological turn that shut them up. And after that I didn’t hear from them again for the rest of the film. For this alone, I am thankful.

And this audience reaction is not simply a coincidence. Indeed, it is precisely in its unexpected moments that this film moves beyond being simply another summer spy thriller. It provides opportunities for us to step back and ask deeper questions about our lives, ranging from the special functions that the female characters had to play on the mission, to the role of gender in national mythologies and the search for truth.

Oscar Chances:

At first I was surprised to look through my previously published lists and not find The Debt listed on any of them. I’d heard about the movie for months, and with such a stellar cast, I would have thought that it would have appeared somewhere. But while this film was incredibly enjoyable, and one that I highly recommend, it has several things going against it as an Oscar vehicle, including genre bias, an August release date, and the fact that it is a remake of another film. So while I still don’t anticipate that it will actually receive any nominations, you may find it appearing on my future long lists in a few categories:

Lead Actress: Jessica Chastain
Supporting Actress: Helen Mirren
Supporting Actor: Jesper Christensen
Score: Thomas Newman
Adapted Screenplay: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan
Sound Editing
Sound Mixing

My Lamb Score: 4 out of 5 Lambs
What is a lamb score? Click HERE to learn more.
Want to read more of my reviews? Click HERE.

And for those who have an aversion to remakes,  I leave you with a few shots from the original Ha-Hov:


  1. Nice review - it's interesting how you value everything on an "Oscar plato".

    Come November, I'm with you in the coverage - I'm all about the Oscars.

  2. I didn’t like it as much you did and I thought Sam Worthington struggled to play what was probably a well written character on the page…but it keep me pretty glued to the screen and had me interested for the time being. Good Review!

  3. Thank you Duke.

    I've evolved a little bit. I originally just started listing the Oscar predictions, then decided that I wanted to also have a list of the movies I had seen, so I began doing them as just a list of where they stood. But then I decided to add a little text as well--and pictures. SO we'll see where it grows to next.

    Great to know that you're a fellow Oscar lover. It will be my first year, so we'll see how well I can keep up once the madness actually starts.

    Thanks for checking out my blog!

  4. Thanks Dan O.

    I think I liked the ending a bit more because I may have been reading things into it. The style of the last fight scene was so similar to the style of the first fight scene, that I began to wonder whether the film was making yet another statement about which stories we believe. But I was probably just reading that into it.

    Thanks for checking me out!

  5. Great review.

    I didn't like it as much as you did, but I definitely have to see it again. I came in with the wrong mindset and the scene you keep mentioning in your review completely threw out everything I was thinking about the film out the door. Your comment about the final fight scene mirroring the first fight scene is also very interesting and something I had not thought of.

    As for Oscars, you are right, this won't get in anywhere. Although, this film is definitely another feather in Jessica Chastain's cap. She might be able to get a nomination for one of her other movies (probably The Help or Take Shalter).

  6. Thanks Ryan. Definitely wondering which of Chastain's films (if any) might get her some attention. I've read that she's good in Take Shelter, but it's hard to know how popular that film will end up being. At any rate, she certainly can play a lot of very different roles.