Tuesday, September 27, 2011
The Debt (John Madden, 2011) -- C-
Utilizing the sort of "based on a true story" mold that screams Oscar bait (and, thus, denies nuance), John Madden's The Debt not once questions the veracity it so rigidly propagates, settling instead for top-heavy exposition devoid of larger meanings, a chronology shifting narrative oblivious to its own exhaustive banality, and an aesthetic suitable to any run-of-the-mill politico tale. The film's only potentially interesting tampering with temporality comes via a double take of revisionism, where a man thought to have been killed lives, an implicit proposition of historical ambiguity amidst moral loss, but Madden situates it merely as plot propulsion, a means to get less savvy audience members sitting up straight in their seats rather than furthering any sort of genre revision. Moreover, the central sequences, following Secret Agents Rachel (Jessica Chastain), David (Sam Worthington), and Stefan (Marton Csokas), specifically a few scenes where Rachel gets a medical exam from the ex-Nazi war criminal (Jesper Christensen) in question, are warmed-over bits of better films (Marathon Man specifically comes to mind), and simply fetishize historical narratology, specifically Naziism, for ends devoid of critical consideration. Politics becomes entertainment, feigning pretensions of grandeur, made no more apparent than in the film's jargon-heavy, motor-mouthed scenes that seek to explain rather than show. Madden has no insights - he's just proficient at setting up signposts that stroke the allegiance of cultural false consciousness.