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.


Night on Earth (1991)

June 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Armin Mueller-Stahl, Rosie Perez and Giancarlo Esposito in the New York city segment of Jim Jarmusch's anthology film "Night on Earth"

Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Starring Winona Ryder, Gena Rowlands, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosie Perez, Isaach de Bankole, Beatrice Dalle, Roberto Benigni, Paolo Bonacelli, Matti Pellonpää, Kari Väänänen, Sakari Kuosmanen and Tomi Salmela

Night On Earth is basically the scripted version of HBO’s Taxi Cab Confessions. It’s a brilliant, episodic observation on human commonalities and cultural differences as viewed through the prism of five taxi drivers in five cities across the globe over the course of a single night on earth, with each segment taking up the length of 30-minute television episode, with no connecting characters.

Jarmusch conceived of the project and wrote it on his own, using a very simple 6-man crew to oversee each individual segment, each shot over the course of a few weeks on location in each city using local crew members.

The brilliance is not necessarily in each individual performance or even in the dialogue- upon which this kind of movie lives and dies- but is brilliant because it manages to capture the humanity in every person depicted in the film, despite their religious, cultural, generational or geographical differences.

You will recognize most of the actors, save for the final segment in Helsinki (because how many world famous Finnish actors are there?) Some of the stories are fairly positive (The New York and Los Angeles segments), some are downright depressing but touching (Paris and Helsinki) and one is an unabashed a slap stick comedy (Rome, though that should come as no surprise since it stars the Clown Prince himself, Roberto Benigni, in a high energy performance of an absent-minded, perverse taxi driver with most of his dialogue being ad-libbed).

The performances Jarmusch pulls from his actors, particularly the Finnish actors, are very impressive and touching in one way or another. Although we may not get to know everything about each character, Jarmusch conveys the essence of each person’s personality with deft clarity in the brief amount of time they are on screen. The conversations mostly feel organic and are all interesting. The script certainly is not under stated, but it’s still highly entertaining and the film is gorgeously shot.

Night On Earth isn’t for everyone and does feel a bit longer than the 2 hours and change running time, but it’s worth a viewing because it was something different that used interesting actors and settings that films haven’t utilized in such a way before.

Jarmusch’s trademarks are all here, from the musical supervision of Tom Waits to the simple, stationary camera shots and the after-midnight time settings of most of the stories and unlike many of his more esoteric films, Night on Earth is are far more accessible and touching. Night On Earth is a minor Independent classic and a must see for the rare lover of taxi-centric sub-genre films!

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