Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Debt (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Debt

Watching "The Debt" the new espionage thriller by John Madden, is like watching an adventure matinee that you've seen before several times but can still enjoy the hell out of. This film has that kind of unconscious spirit. 
I think it's safe to say that most of us have seen this type of story before: the sexy resilient female agent who is hard as nails when she wants to be, hunting down an old Nazi doctor. Oh no, you're saying, not this again. It's the familiar landscape of "The Boys from Brazil" or "Marathon Man". But wait... it's still okay to hold your breath, because Helen Mirren as the star, still makes this historical Horrorshow compelling.
It's 1997 and Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) is gnarly, deep voiced and chain smoking. Like her male twin, Laurence Oliver, in   "The Boys from Brazil", Mirren has terrific presence, even though she plays a humdrum  role. Mirren is a bit like the songstress Marianne Faithfull: hardened, smoky, unapologetic and still sneaky.  Her Nazi - hunting days are over, but she is left with haunts after a botched kidnapping in trying to bring this evil man to justice.
Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) is the Nazi We Love To Hate. Even when Vogel is sleeping he radiates Evil. There's just no hiding it. His Hannibal Lecter-like performance is satisfying in part because we Know what's going to happen. Practicing as a gynecologist, there is no mistaking Vogel's sinister past.

The solid performances and suspense keep your mind off the film's flaws. I didn't like the ramshackle old house that looked like a leftover set piece from "The Last House on the Left". Maybe I'm just being picky but it didn't seem believable. I doubt the agents from Mossad would chain a dangerous Nazi to an old kitchen floor. Such are the trappings of B-movies.
And the agents themselves as young men, have little to say or do. David (Sam Worthington) is monotone and Stephan (Marton Csokas) is strong, macho and bland. They often settle the score by fighting and the scenes are a bit too reminiscent of "The Bourne Identity". But who cares about these men? The drama in "The Debt" is all about Rachel Singer. As both a young woman (Jessica Chastain) and as an older agent, Rachel is a pleasure to root for and she never bores. Throughout her vengeful quest, Rachel stays constant, a hellcat with  a heart.
Some confrontational scenes echo "The Silence of the Lambs", (the often duplicated "Am I a monster?" soliloquy is here) and then voila! He attacks! But if you forgive that, Helen Mirren smooths out all things derivative in the film, making old twists  seem new again. I think the power resides in her face. And Helen has a great one, able to strike fear in the heart of the octogenarian Third Reich with one curl of cigarette smoke.       

Write Ian at

No comments: