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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Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

May 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Raul Julia and William Hurt in "Kiss of the Spider Woman"

Adapted for the Screen by Manuel Puig, based on the novel by Leonard Schrader

Directed by Hector Babenco

Starring William Hurt and Raul Julia

As a film, Kiss of the Spider Woman can be a little monotonous and theatrical, but then, its clearly a stage play that was developed as a film. In looking at the film as a filmed stage play, it’s brilliant.

Hurt’s Molina, an effeminate, homosexual prisoner in jail for sex with a minor, has been paired up with a Communist rebel named Arregui, played by Raul Julia. They sit around their cell recounting their pre-prison lives, their lifelong dreams and aspirations and occasionally escape their depressing circumstances by recounting a favorite film of Molina’s, a Nazi propaganda film that the politically disinclined Molina enjoys for the love story and that Arregui dislikes because its a positive story about Nazis.

As Molina, Hurt truly is fantastic. At times, he is like any other straight man, at other times, he is clearly a woman trapped in a man’s body and above all its a character. As the films story unfolds we see the many sides to Molina and Hurt’s characters deceits, both to himself and to others, is astounding. Hurt disappears into Molina, from the hair and make up, to his voice and physicality. It’s an understated performance of an effeminate homosexual who is much more than his sexual orientation.

As Arregui, Raul Julia is equally fantastic in a more tragic role as a man so driven by his political convictions that he sacrifices everything else in his life, right down to his health. He’s too serious for his own good and too sincere for his own good as well. He might be a political prisoner with intense convictions, but as a person he has weaknesses that could be his undoing.

The two characters are complete opposites in terms of life style but they’re equals in terms of wanting the freedom to be who they are- sexually and politically, respectfully. Molina just wants to love whomever he wants to love and be himself without judgment while Raul Julia wants what any communist wants. They find themselves at constant odds with each other but continue to find common ground. Molina has a devastating secret and its not clear if his interactions with Arregui are completely deceitful and goal-oriented or if there’s some sincere longing for friendship in their conversations.

It’s a difficult film with complex ideas and a dense narrative, but its very fulfilling and satisfying thanks to Hurts and Julia’s captivating performances. Kiss of the Spider Woman is a nearly forgotten master class in acting and dialogue and well worth a viewing, so long as you’re up for the challenge.

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