Saturday, September 17, 2011

Road Trip: The Debt


The Debt
Helen Mirren
Jessica Chastain
Tom Wilkinson
Marton Csokas
Ciarán Hinds
Sam Worthington
Jesper Christiansen
Romi Aboulafia

Directed by
John Madden

So after having missed an opportunity to go to the theater the previous weekend, The Girlfriend and I tried it again last weekend.  We were aided by the fact that she was babysitting her Aunt’s house and her cats, so I was able to go into Bakersfield on Saturday and spend the night,  That way we could not only see a movie but we could both have the brunch buffet at Marie Callender’s the next morning.  

The Girlfriend has some strange ideas that really annoy me.  She would rather go to a movie that she has no real interest in seeing, just because she doesn’t want to pay the difference in cost between the matinee price and the evening price.  You can’t blame her for being thrifty I suppose, but there is such a thing as carrying it to the extremes.  I mean, isn’t it worth a few extra dollars to spend some time with your supposed beloved, that of course being me?  Never mind, don’t answer that.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I didn’t make it into Bakersfield as early as I had hoped I would.  I guess you want to know why, don’t you?  My, you are the nosy bunch.  If not just skip ahead to the review because this is the part where I make the blog personable, just like I said I was going to.  It’s the way I left off a little steam now and then.

The Girlfriend was supposed to call and wake me up so that I wouldn’t sleep too late on Saturday, something I have a tendency to do unless I’m doing something really special such as making a trip to L.A.  She didn’t.  Then when I did get up and get motor-vated, The Girlfriend’s sister hopped into the shower mere minutes before I could get into the one adjacent to our bedroom.  And two showers at the same time is not workable in this house considering the plumbing was installed in 1912, right after it was salvaged from the Titanic.

And let me tell you, this gal takes record setting showers.  I didn’t know that a hot water heater could even hold that much water.  Sometimes I half expect a walking talking Sunsweet Pitted Prune in a robe to come walking out of the bathroom when she’s done.  But still, I figured that even after the forty five minutes she was in there, I should have no problem getting into Bakersfield at a decent hour after taking my own fifteen minute shower, even with having to make a stop at the local Save Mart to get some sodas.  Honorable Son No. 3 also wanted me to take him to get his cash checked and that was doable as well.

But plans started to go awry the minute we arrived at Save Mart.  They had exactly one check out lane open, and there was a line all the way back to the Bum Fuck Meat Department.  I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea.  It took us quite a while to get out of that place so time wise things weren’t looking so hot.  It was about to get worse.

I had to drive all the way across Wasco down highway 46 to get to the Wasco Liquor Store where Honorable Son No 3 cashes his check, and traffic did not cooperate one bit.  But at least there was a parking space when we got there.  I waited patiently while he went inside.  Several minutes later he returned and informed me that somehow he had brought the check stub with him instead of the actual check. 

So it was necessary to drive across town to get back home.  It was then that I remembered that it was the day of the annual Wasco Rose Festival which is held in Barker Park and the surrounding area.  Having made the mistake of going in that direction it took forever to get back to the house.  I had meant to blog  the Rose Festival for my blog rejuvenation, but it was way too late to do anything about that now, except rerun this seven year old picture or wait until next year.  

I waited for him to run inside the house and get the proper portion of his whopping big McDonald’s check.  To make matters worse, temperatures were in the high nineties and the air conditioning in my car has been kaputz for a couple of years.  I had tried to think of a faster route to the Liquor Store but there wasn’t one, although I did have sense enough when I took him home (again) to avoid the Rose Festival so it wasn’t nearly as bad on the return trip.  Finally I was able to head into Bakersfield, but it was apparent that we were going to have a hard time catching a matinee.  I finally arrived at her aunt’s home around 4:30 PM.

The movie she had wanted to see was The Debt.  I don’t know why because it was the last film I had expected The Girlfriend to want to see.  But to be fair, I knew nothing about the film so maybe she had read something or seen the trailer for it.  You know how trailers are.  They often make a movie seem like something it’s not.  Myself?  I would have rather seen Contagion or even The Help but not The Debt.  Hell, even the title sounded lame.   I thought The Help would be right up her alley but apparently not.  She said she’d wait for the DVD and nothing I said could convince her otherwise.

It appeared at first that we weren’t going to see The Debt either.  There were no more matinee showings that we could make it to on time.  So if we were going to make the Matinee as she insisted that we do, we were going to see My Idiot Brother.  I considered that to be appropriate considering how idiotic The Girlfriend was being about her requirement of not attending an evening showing.  So we got into her Ford Escape and headed to the theater.  Although neither film was one I would have picked out, I decided I would rather take my chances with The Debt.

“What I think is silly,” I told her, “is that you’ll go see something you know you don’t want to see just to save a few extra dollars.  And besides, if we go to Valley Plaza, my admission is only $5.50 regardless of what time we go so we’ll only have to pay for one regular admission.” 

It must have been that last part that convinced her.  She asked me to check the times that The Debt was showing which I did.   If we had gone to see My Idiot Brother, we would have ate dinner after the movie.  Since we were going to a later showing we went to Marie Callender’s which you can read about here.

So eventually we made it to the Valley Plaza.  I also knew for sure that we were going to end up in one of their cigar box screening rooms.   And this we did, thus keeping The Girlfriend’s record intact of only picking movies that either everybody had already seen weeks before or nobody wanted to see now.  But even so, the theater was hardly busy.  In fact they only had one concession stand open and the girl working it was practically begging for people to buy popcorn.  Later I would find out that it was the weakest weekend of the year at the box office and boy did it show at this place.

Still, for some reason they had not cleaned out our cigar box cinema yet, even though we weren’t all  that early.  That left me with some time to kill which meant either twiddling my thumbs, talking to The Girlfriend, or taking pictures with my cell.  I opted for taking pictures with my cell.  Lucky you.   I bet since we have been here before I would forego this.  But there’s always something going on.  Nevertheless,  I’ll try to be glib.

Kenny Wormald Who?

Oh well, I can always settle for downloading a nude picture of her.

Now that I’ve wasted your time with all the other crap what about this movie?


The Debt is the story of three Israeli Mossad agents who sneak into East Berlin in the 1960’s to locate a German war criminal known as Dieter Vogel, the Surgeon of Birkenau (Jesper Christiansen), who experimented on and tortured Jews during World War II at Auschwitz.  Once they have ascertained  that he is the man they are looking for, their mission is to capture him, escape with him from Berlin, and return him to the west to stand trial for his horrendous crimes.  When the film opens the three agents are in fact arriving home as heroes, although Vogel is not with them.  Later we  will  find out why, but opening your picture with a scene that should be near the end is often not a good idea and that ended up being true for The Debt.

Flash forward to the present day.  The daughter of agent Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) and Agent Stephen Gold  (Tom Wilkinson), Sarah Gold  (Romi Aboulafia), has written a book based on the exploits of her mother and the other agents.  In fact, her mother is given the task to read one of the chapters of the book aloud at a party being given to celebrate the book’s release.  As she begins reading, the film flashes back to illustrate the events as they happened, at least as they do in Sarah’s book.

At the same time that Rachel is doing her reading, the third agent, David Peretz (Ciaran Hinds) is picked up for a debriefing, but when he sees Stephen waiting in a nearby vehicle, he commits suicide by throwing himself in front of a truck.

The film then flashes back again to all of the events in the past and what actually happened.  Needless to say, what is written in Sarah’s book may or may not be exactly truthful.  And therein lies the main problem with The Debt. 

Once we realize that everything the agents do in the past is simply a buildup to one moment in time or in this case a book chapter, the film loses much of it’s suspense.  Watching how they capture the despicable Vogel, is chilling enough, especially when a young Rachel (Jessica Chastain) has to pay several visits to him by pretending that she and her make believe young husband David (Sam Worthington) are having trouble conceiving.  And we also see why their escape from Berlin with Dieter failed.  You already knew they weren’t going to make it so it’s simply a matter of finding out why.  And frankly if real life agents were as careless as this trio, the Mossad couldn’t capture a flea on their best day.

The interplay between the agents and Dieter is a study in psychological games, one that Dieter seems more adept at than the three agents.  He  knows how to manipulate them.  You would think they would be prepared for such a thing but they are not.  It is during this time that Rachel falls in love with David, but is rebuffed because he is only concentrating on the mission.  Rachel seeks solace in the arms of Stephen, a decision that has lasting consequences for all concerned.

But despite all that intrigue and love triangulation, it will always be in the back of your mind that this is just the filler until we get to the big reveal scene that tells what really happened one night in Berlin, and you just end up wanting them to get on with it and move the story forward.  And frankly, you’ll probably have guessed the big secret anyway.  Since you already know at the beginning of the movie the trio are going to concoct a fictional retelling of the events, it goes without saying that decision has it’s ramifications as well.  If ever a film begged for linear story telling this one would be the candidate.  The flashbacks in the first twenty minutes or so detract from everything that happened in the past, whereas if they had begun in the sixties as they should have, you probably would have been on the edge of your seat the entire time.  It’s sort of like watching or reading Love Story.  In the first paragraph they tell you the main character is going to die.  So you spend the rest of your time waiting for the Grim Reaper to come down and scoop  Jennifer Cavilleri away.

To make matters worst, the story then picks up in the present day where the agents must deal with the consequences of their actions in Berlin.  It’s interesting enough, but is spoiled by a ridiculous coincidence during the last ten minutes that just doesn’t hold water and will have you leave the theater feeling worse about the film then you would otherwise.  I could only shake my head and wonder why.

It’s a shame too, because some good performances are wasted.  Helen Mirren is always excellent, but Jessica Chastain as the younger Rachel is exceptional and almost upstages her present day counterpart.


Likewise, Jesper Christiansen’s portrayal, along with Chastain’s, would normally be the stuff supporting actor nominations are made up of if it were in a better film. As a matter of fact, I found both of the actors who played the younger David and Stephen far more believable and intriguing than their older selves, who just seem crotchety and grumpy.

The bottom line is that the film is worth watching, but I would wait for a DVD rental and no more than that.  And if I can’t recommend that you go out on a road trip of your own to see a film, I have no choice but to give it a grade of C+. It’s a good effort that just misses the mark.  See you, on the road.

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