Face the Facts
Whenever Helen Mirrenís name appears in the cast of a movie, high expectations abound at our house. Thatís why my husband, our daughter, and I could hardly wait to see The Debt. Unfortunately, although impressed -- as always -- with Mirrenís splendid performance, we were disappointed. Much of this suspenseful thriller takes place in flashback sequences, so each of the three lead characters is played by two different actors. Jessica Chastain portrays Helen Mirrenís role as a younger woman, but itís clearly not possible for these two people to be the same person at a different age. Chastain (The Help) boasts a very noticeable cleft in her chin; Mirren (Red) does not. So every time either one of these fine actresses appears on camera, we canít help wondering why the filmmakers didnít realize how much something like this takes away from a viewerís total immersion in the movie.
Still, a disfiguring scar on the face of both Mirren and Chastain did help to remind us they were playing the same person. But even that characteristic forced me into imagining a scene which should have been added -- one in which the character visits a plastic surgeon who says, ďI canít do anything about the scar on your cheek, but I can fill in that dent on your chin.Ē
Also, while not as visually distracting, itís hard to imagine Sam Worthington (Clash of the Titans) and Ciaran Hinds (Veronica Guerin) as the same man at different ages. Worthingtonís big round face changing into Hindsí gaunt, angular visage seems a stretch. Maybe Iím nitpicking, but my daughter felt the same way about this problem. However, we agreed that Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton) and Marton Csokas (Aeon Flux) -- playing the third major character during different time periods -- were easy to accept, for nothing about the changes in their physical appearances caused us to think about something other than the film we were watching.
Iím not a big fan of movies that confuse us by jumping back and forth in time, which probably also accounts for some of my negative reactions to The Debt. The story takes place in 1966 and in 1997. It deals with three Mossad agents and their mission to kidnap a German doctor (Jesper Christensen) responsible for atrocities during the Holocaust and bring him to justice. Rachel (Chastain), Stephan (Csokas), and David (Worthington) face interpersonal issues and other unexpected obstacles as they try to accomplish their goal. Then in 1997, because of a shocking revelation, one of them must go back into action to finish the job. Will it be Rachel (now Mirren), David (now Hinds), or Stephan (now Wilkinson)?
Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) does an excellent job of focusing on suspense in sequences showing the courageous young agents trying to execute their plan. This is the best part of the movie. And though filmed darkly in certain key scenes, the film still sheds enough light for us to see whatís happening. Despite the physical appearance drawback mentioned earlier (which actors cannot be blamed for), most performances are fine here, with charisma honors going to Csokas, who projects an imposing screen presence as a driven man frustrated when things donít go his way.
The Debt is definitely NOT a feel-good film, for it serves as a reminder to face facts, no matter how unpleasant they may be. Facing facts, my daughter concluded, "This should have been a very good movie, but I couldnít stop thinking about those chins.Ē
(Released by Focus Features/Miramax and rated ďRĒ for some violence and language.)
For more information about The Debt, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.