John Madden‘s The Debt, which I bailed on at the 40 minute mark, had, by the time I left, administered several self-inflicted wounds. Bruises, scratches, cuts, scrapes — they kept coming non-stop. The biggest wince was realizing early on that all the actors — principally Sam Worthington, Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds, Jessica Chastain, Martin Csokas — had been urged to “act.” There wasn’t a moment in the portion that I watched in which they didn’t seem to be (a) speaking lines and (b) using every thespian trick in the book to let us know how their characters are feeling. There’s nothing that kills a movie faster than this.
I especially hate it when actors exchange ominous “looks” in a scene. Looks in which actor says to another, “Are you sensing the same vibe I’m sensing?” Or “I’m getting concerned about how things are going — how about you?” Scenes in which an actor conveys his/her feelings about another by looking at them longingly or angrily or coldly or playfully are, for me, mute nostril agony.
And I think it should be carved in stone that you can never have an older actor or actress be portrayed in a younger incarnation by another younger actor/actress, or vice versa. It never works, and always kills the movie in question. In this film — a thriller about three young Israeli Mossad agents who captured an Adolph Eichmann-like Nazi war criminal in mid 60s East Berlin, and their older selves dealing with lingering consequences — we are asked to believe the following pairs: (a) Worthington aging into Hinds — ridiculous, absurd; (b) Chastain aging into Mirren — laughable, in a pig’s eye; and (c) the 44 year-old Csokas, speaking with his usual bizarre New Zealand-by-way-of-Hungary accent, aging 40 years hence into the 61 year-old Wilkinson, his speech patterns utterly devoid of the Csokas patois.
I felt angry and insulted. My feelings wouldn’t have been any different if Madden had come up to where I was sitting during the showing and urinated on my leg. There’s no getting over this aspect. It alone kills The Debt, although there were may other assists in this regard. I could describe four or five others but I’d just be describing variations on the same sprawling green lawn composed of identical blades of shit grass.