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Underrated: The Debt.

February 21, 2012

 The Debt is one of those good and worthy films that impatient critics or viewers dismiss for want of high drama and towering Hollywood ‘performances’. Indeed many criticisms of the film mention its slow pace. As I have said elsewhere, a slow film is, in my book, a film worth seeing especially when, like this one, they draw you in and ratchet up the tension relentlessly. An exploration of evil and personal morality, the film can be broadly described as a spy thriller which moves across time from a small group of Mossad Nazi hunters in the 1960s – with a small dollop of unrequited love thrown in – to the more cynical age of contemporary espionage. Other than, and perhaps more than thrills the film also offers viewers a complex and sophisticated ethical conundrum at both the personal and the national level, denying easy answers and conclusions as well as easy notions of heroism (so much a feature of conventional film). The Debt is also chockablock with fine performances and a great cast (headed by Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain) all deliver outstanding, professional turns of the kind most often found in British dramas, both TV and film.

Because these kinds of performances are not of the ‘sexy’ (i.e. fashionable) or scenery-chewing kind, usually linked with the actor and not the part, they are often overlooked and underrated. Indeed, it seems that every British actor out there (and yes, there are many foreign and American actors in this mould but they often stick to independent productions) consistently delivers this standard of performance in a manner that is expected, almost workaday (hence under the radar). I feel Hollywood and its self-aggrandizing star and awards system could learn a lot from the UK’s ‘jobbing actor’ system, but then all that humility wouldn’t be Hollywood then would it? In the US actors like endlessly brilliant Viggo Mortensen (The Road!) and Gary Oldman (who has worked there for years seemingly playing villains or starring in Batman) are consistently overlooked in favour of lesser thespians in hot movies, or the same old bankable Stars (Clooney, Clooney, yawn) or the popular/usually crap actor rewarded for appearing in ‘real’, serious movies. (I expect Russell Brand to get an Oscar in the near future.) I  am suprised and pleased Oldman has been nominated but alongside Pitt and Clooney? It seems a cruel joke. Like nominating The Tree of Life for best picture. And in what universe does Moneyball deserve an award more than Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, even if it wasn’t as brilliant as we were hoping?

Oldman deserves an Oscar just for looking like a real actor.

And where are Ryan Gosling and Michael Fassbender on the Oscars nomination list?  Neither has put a foot wrong this season. And Shame is mindblowing stuff.

Fassbender campaigned hard for a nomination...

I suppose rather than give up and award the Tilda Swintons, the Cate Blanchettes, the Helen Mirrens and the Meryl Streeps every year they have to make the effort to reward or consider other actors. Otherwise it may get (more) boring! Plus, many journalists have already commented on the industry moneymen behind just who gets promoted and nominated in all of these ceremonies, as well as the dreadful yet relentless pull of the ceremonies themselves – i.e. our strange compulsion to watch them.

Forget the back-slapping awards circuit offerings and catch this film instead: a faultlessly acted, high-minded, honest and serious drama which is also thought-provoking and leaves an uneasy aftertaste. But, better to be troubled than underwhelmed by the boring, overrated The Artist or the everyday Moneyball. Right?

  1. Anonymous permalink

    I agree about Drive! Thanks 🙂

  2. The Debt and Drive were two films I think got snubbed big time by the awards circuit this year. Great writing!

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