Directed by John Madden (the director of the 1998 Best Picture Winner Shakespeare In Love )The Debt is a rather forgettable story of revenge. The Debt is a remake of a 2007 Israeli film of the same name and stars Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas as MOSSAD (the Israeli intelligence service) agents planning to kidnap notorious war criminal Dieter Vogel – aka The Surgeon of Birkenau – played by Jesper Christensen. These three agents wish to bring back this Nazi war criminal to Israel and give him the justice he deserves. The story is told in a nonlinear narrative as the plot flashes back from the early 60s to the year 1997, and this is done with some success in terms of narrative, but does present some clear casting issues. Within the hour the film loses its spark and its power to entertain despite the rising tensions and tempers between the central characters as they spend far too much time cooped up in a dingy little house. The two male agents, Stefan Gold and David Pertez (Csokas and Worthington) are rather unprofessional as they develop feelings towards Rachael (Chastain and Helen Mirren) who swings between the two male characters, but this melodrama is rather tiresome and mundane. The performances are fine as the cast is made up of some well known stars (Chastain, Helen Mirren and Worthington) but the older versions of the characters look nothing like their younger selves so, at first, one cannot be certain to who is who, with the exception of Rachel Singer. One does wonder why they couldn’t use make up. That aside The Debt is still rather uninvolving due to the fact that these characters, who we spend a great deal of time with, just are not interesting enough.
At first the title Martha Marcy May Marlene may be seen one of the worst titles of the year, a tongue twister that is difficult to remember, a advertising nightmare, but upon viewing the film it becomes clear that the film’s title symbolizes the central themes of one not knowing where they are, their place in the world and lack of knowledge about their own identity. The film starts off with a big black square in the middle of the screen (ok, it doesn’t, but this happened in the screening I went to, however it was fixed in no time). The film actually starts with a young woman named Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) escaping through a wood, she soon uses a pay phone to desperately call her sister who then arrives to collect Martha. At first we are unaware of what she is escaping from, but we are soon told in flashback that Martha has escaped an abusive cult led by Patrick (John Hawkes).
Martha Marcy May Marlene (MMMM for short) has been dubbed a psychological thriller, but the film is not a thriller in the traditional sense as it is a film that relies on an increasingly unnerving atmosphere that makes one feel very uneasy. The flashback and present day strands of the narrative are cut so well together that at first one is not entirely sure of where they are, and at first this can be slightly disorientating, also one is never sure if Martha’s flashbacks are real or a product of her imagination. First time director Sean Durkin does a stunning job at making the audience feel paranoid making MMMM work staggeringly well as a horror film (but the film still remains more of psychological thriller), however there is just that one occasion where MMMM slips into outright horror. Led by a superb performance by Lizzie Olsen, who nails every emotion from depression to paranoia, Martha Marcy May Marlene is tense, gripping stuff made even more uncomfortable by the charming and charismatic but very sinister performance by the superb John Hawkes. The ending is abrupt and ambiguous, but leaves the audience almost begging for more. There are hundreds of thousands of questions that the audience asks, but the lack of answers makes one more confused by events on screen.
Following the death of his wife Georgia (Mary Page Keller), Hal (Christopher Plummer) comes out as gay, he soon finds himself a boyfriend, but is diagnosed with terminal cancer and dies four years later. Hal’s son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) reflects upon his relationship with his father after the death of his mother, meanwhile coping with loss he tries to build a relationship with Anna (Mélanie Laurent). The story is told in flashbacks, but these flashbacks are rather jagged and do not make the film the smooth ride it should be as the story itself is a rather patchy one. Beginners is dubbed as a romantic comedy-drama, but the drama is nonexistent and the comedy low in supply. At first Anna and Oliver’s relationship is quirky and sweet, but very little happens in the relationship thus it can be quite easy for one to lose attention; this would not be an issue if we enjoyed their presence, but we don’t. That’s not to say that these two are unlikable people but Ewan McGregor and Mélanie Laurent, who do give good individual performances, do not really click as a couple thus we do not enjoy their presence, but we are left uninterested by their relationship. Christopher Plummer makes a fine supporting performance, but the likes of Albert Brooks (from Drive) and Ben Kingsley (from Hugo) are far more deserving of the Best Supporting Actor nomination. However the best performance goes to the little subtitled Jack Russell (Cosmo) who gets more laughs than anyone else, but sadly the film is nowhere near as moving as it should be.