The Debt (2011)

August 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sam Worthington in 'The Debt'

Written by Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan, adapted from the film “Ha-Hov” written by Assaf Bernstein and Ido Rosenblum

Directed by John Madden

Starring Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, Helen Mirren, Ciaran Hinds, Jesper Christensen and Tom Wilkinson

The Debt is a long-delayed, clunky espionage thriller based on the memoirs of a real life Mossad agent. It’s a film that goes back and forth between modern day and an incident in 1966, in which a trio of very young but dedicated Mossad agents are dispatched to find a Nazi war criminal on the run. They find him and capture him, prepared to torture him until he gives up information and admits to his identity. Their plan goes awry when the Nazi turns the tables on the inexperienced young agents, whom are already at odds over a tempestuous love triangle brewing between themselves.

Sam Worthington acquits himself nicely in this role, showing range and expression not yet even hinted at in his big budget action movies were accustomed to seeing him in. Jessica Chastain continues to prove her worth as an up and coming talent in a complicated role as the lone female Agent and younger version of Helen Mirren’s character. Marton Csokas does a fine job as a younger Ciaran Hinds, both of whom play the elder agent. Tom Wilkinson rounds out the cast in a small but vital role as the older version of Worthington.
It’s a complex and ambitious film that becomes somewhat clunky as director John Madden tries to split his running time between the present and the past, with many sections of the film dragging. Even as a story based on real life events, the filmmakers seem to pull their punches in their attempt to engage the audience with the dramatic aspects of the film, while doing a fine job with the more spy-oriented segments of violence and snooping.

It’s not a bad film, but there’s a reason the release has been delayed for so long; two halves don’t always make a whole. Neither the events of the past nor the repercussions that echo in the present provide enough material for their own film. Placed together the pace of the movie warbles between harrowing and stultifying with long slow builds to nothing in particular.

The two halves don’t gel well enough to justify the telling of this remarkable true story with an ending that is nonetheless quite powerful. We’ve seen better spy films, even the more accurate ones and we’ve simply seen better writing than what this film has to offer. It appears to be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen as we’re clearly witnessing at least two different films being forced into the same 2 hour narrative structure.
It’s a shame, because the performances are all top notch, the script just simply isn’t up to snuff.

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Everything Must Go (2011)

May 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Will Ferrell in 'Everything Must Go" as down on his luck alcoholic Nick Halsey

Adapted and Directed by Dan Rush

Based on the Raymond Carver short story “Why Don’t You Dance”

Starring Will Ferrell and Rebecca Hall

Based on Everything Must Go is a quiet, contemplative seriocomic look at a man who is passively allowing his life to fall apart around him and when it finally can’t get any worse, he begins to wake up and ask “Why me?” as he continues the same pattern of behavior that put him in this undesired position in the first place. That man is Nick, played by Will Ferrell as a bleary eyed, blank faced alcoholic. His skin is bloated and sweaty, he’s out of shape and not well prepared for anything as he’s fired and finds the contents of his house strewn about his lawn upon returning home from work, the results of his wife’s impromptu desertion of the marriage.

With no money, no job and no home, Nick simply gives up. He spends what little pocket money he has left on booze and begins to reassemble his house on his front lawn, much to the chagrin and concern of his neighbors and eventually the cops, who tell him he has to hold a yard sale or scram. The metaphor of the title isn’t too subtle, but the script is. There are no big speeches and not a whole lot of exposition. The story is rather choppy as we follow Ferrell’s character around, trying to at first avoid his demons. The demon (alcoholism) is treated with total respect and seriousness. This is not a Will Ferrell we have seen before. He’s completely subdued, ineffectual and nihilistic. It’s a strange performance. Very quiet. He doesn’t imbue the character with a whole lot of physical acting beyond what the script directly and specifically calls for. His role is therefore a bit of a mystery.

He’s surrounded by similarly two-dimensional characters, who pop in and out of the movie awkwardly in an episodic nature. Rebecca Hall shows up as a friendly new neighbor who is apprehensive but wants to help Nick. She’s good. She’s very good at conveying the awkwardness of being politely social with someone you don’t know and don’t trust. Michael Pena is also very good as a police officer who is Nick’s AA sponsor and may not have Nick’s best interests at heart. We also have an alright but under written character in the quiet but intelligent Kenny Loftus (Christopher Jordan Wallace), a rotund neighborhood boy who latches onto Nick in a passive manner, interested in Nick’s baseball and sales backgrounds. There are a few blatantly comedic moments (mostly involving Stephen Root as Nick’s judgmental neighbor who has his own shameful issues) and Laura Dern pops in for a brief scene as an old high school class mate of Nick’s.

Ultimately Everything Must Go is not about the characters, but the message- It’s easy to wallow in despair, shame, depression and failure and it’s hard to admit defeat and move on, but if you’re successful in doing so, you’ll be a richer person for it. The film gets this message across successfully and without beating us over the head with it. Everything Must Go isn’t for everybody, but it’s a different sort of animal from what we see out of studios and even independent releases and for its uniqueness I must give it kudos.

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