Film Review: The Debt

The Debt is an accomplished thriller that audiences should find absorbing. The various aspects combine together effectively to produce an atmospheric film that retains a sense of plausibility.

In 1997, the daughter of two former Mossad agents publishes a book detailing their accomplishments. Rachel and Stefan, along with fellow agent David, undertook a mission to track down a Nazi war criminal in 1966. The team accomplished their mission with a few obstacles, but not everything is quite as it seems on the pages of their daughter’s book…

The one dominant factor that makes The Debt work so well is its excellent screenplay. The Debt, a remake of a 1997 Israeli film, was written by Matthew Vaughan, Jane Goodman and Peter Straughan. The characters are highly believable, as is the dialogue. The film plunges viewers into a world that will be foreign to the vast majority. Yet, the events that occur seem authentic given the context.

The format of the film allows tension to build in a naturalistic manner. This begins quite slowly, but exceeds to a very tense finale. It is the tension and mystery that grips viewers the most. For the most part, The Debt remains plausible. It is this facet that distinguishes the film from so many other recent thrillers that are let down by incredulous plot twists.

The Debt has a particular visual style that imbues the entire film. The colours are muted, and the film seems to be saturated by a blue tone. This is particularly pertinent in the scenes set in the apartment. The visual style of the film helps to enhance the sense of claustrophobia. Director John Madden, along with cinematographer Ben Davis and art directors Peter Francis and Dominic Masters, have done an excellent job in making these scenes appear cramped, closed and tense.

Performances in The Debt are good all round. Helen Mirren brings gravitas to the role of Rachel. Playing the younger Rachel, Jessica Chastain shows why she has been much in demand this year. Sam Worthington is controlled as the younger David, while Marton Csokas brings more personality as the young Stephan.

The Debt may cause restlessness in audiences more acclimatised to breakneck pacing and constant action. Nonetheless, it is a solid thriller that should satisfy fans of the genre.

Film Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Thomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a successfully constructed film which boasts a fantastic combination of intrigue and tension. The film should satisfy audiences beyond just espionage-thriller aficionados.

In the early 1970s, veteran British spy George Smiley is assigned with the task of finding a mole on the British Secret Service. Following his former boss’ hunch, Smiley must investigate his colleagues to uncover which one of them is leaking information to Soviet intelligence agencies…

Based on the novel by John le Carré, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a gripping film. The narrative is carefully woven by screenwriters Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan. There is a steady trickle of exposition, some of which occurs in flashback sequences. This works to keep the viewers guessing whilst retaining the big mystery. The premise of the film is fairly simple, but it is made intriguing by the different strands that operate and the increasing sense of mystery.

Pacing in Tinker Tailor is impeccable. The different strands come together effectively, building tension as the film progresses. The more dramatic scenes are executed perfectly, and work well to compel viewers. The story builds to a climax which is incredibly tense. Given the various options the film could have taken, it is unlikely that too many will guess the reveal with any certainty.

The central mystery of Tinker Tailor is very successful is absorbing the audience’s attention. At first it may seem as if there are an awful lot of players, for those unfamiliar with the novel or 1979 TV mini-series. Nonetheless, every aspect of the film is relevant to the overarching narrative. Moreover, the main players become clear as the film progresses.

Alfredson’s direction is controlled, guiding the film superbly. Shots that pull focus are a bit overused, but the film is visually gratifying otherwise. The art direction and design of Tinker Tailor is excellent. There is excellent attention to detail with regards to the early-1970s setting, with locations, props and costumes all appearing authentic for this period.

Alfredson’s film boasts a stellar British cast with does itself justice. Gary Oldman is fantastic as ever as the straight-faced George Smiley. Benedict Cumberbatch is also superb as Peter Guillam. There is not a single sub-par performance, with Colin Firth, Mark Strong and others delivering the goods.

A far cry from the glamour of James Bond films, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an intriguing mystery thriller which is difficult to fault.

The Empire Big Screen Diaries – Day 1

I love the smell of pastries in the morning.

Luckily for me, mini baked goods were bountiful in the press room of Empire Big Screen. The air was thick with the scent of pastries, coffee and journalists. Outside, queues of early-rising movie fans eagerly collected their tickets and discussed plans for the day ahead. The timetable for the day consisted of numerous events taking place at the same time, so choosing wisely was essential.

First up for me was the 20th Century Fox Showcase. I have a great affection for their current blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes, so I was pretty eager to discover what treats lay in store. We were given 3D glasses as we entered the auditorium, an indication of what might be on show. Before any trailers or movie clips were shown, a short piece on directors who have worked with Fox was screened. A brief love letter to the company, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Tim Burton and other prominent directors relayed their experiences directing under Fox. It was a fluff piece, but if I was in charge, I too would boast about being responsible for Alien, Edward Scissorhands, Say Anything and others. I would probably be really obnoxious, and flash up “We were responsible for Star Wars, bitches!”, but Fox have more class than me. Anyway, Fox followed this up with a short featurette on the effects used in Rise, then trailers for In Time, The Darkest Hour and Martha Marcy May Marlene. The first two are glossy thrillers, both with a sci-fi edge. The third was Fox Searchlight’s drama, which was screened at Cannes. The final item was a few short clips from Titanic, remastered in 3D for the April 2012 release. Some of the 3D was incredibly impressive, particularly Kate Winslet’s hat in her first appearance in the 1997 film.

Next up on the agenda was a wander around the exhibitors stalls, which featured all the big film companies, plus other things such as the animal actors stall. I was almost bowled over with excitement to see The Dark Knight Rises stall, until I saw it was just a bench and a television playing the teaser trailer. I don’t know what I was expecting really. Perhaps a Christian Bale meet and greet and the entire film being screened, because that would be plausible.

Our bellies enquired about feeding time, so lunch was the next order of business. We went to Nando’s, which was tasty. We managed to get one of the booths, which is always fun. My creamy mash was on point, and the chicken pitta went down a treat (in case you were interested in a review of the food).

The Universal Pictures Showcase took place in the early afternoon. In attendance were the screenwriter of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, Peter Straughan, and producer Robyn Slovo. The pair introduced three exclusive clips from the film, explaining the context of each before they were screened. These were certainly successful in building anticipation for the film; it looks great from these small glimpses and I am not even au fait with the novel. Gary Oldman also recorded a message to the audience, which was a nice touch. Following this, a number of other trailers and clips were shown. First up was a video message from Seann William Scott from the set of American Reunion, the fourth American Pie film. Inexplicably no trailer for the film was shown, despite this introduction. The Raven trailer was screened, however, and it looks mighty interesting – a must see for Edgar Allen Poe enthusiasts. Trailers for The Change-Up, The Debt, Johnny English Reborn, Tower Heights, Battleship and The Thing were also shown. We were also lucky enough to get a world exclusive look at the trailer for upcoming thriller Contraband, starring Mark Wahlberg. Finally a trailer and some clips of Immortals were screened. The film, which is released in November, looks pretty gory, albeit in a cartoonish way.

After this, we headed upstairs to Cineworld for the Pint of Milk Live with Dominic Cooper. As we made our way up the escalator, we noticed Mr Cooper himself was shortly behind us. He was dressed very sharply, and I fleetingly pondered talking to him. Thankfully for all involved, I quickly decided against this. The only thing I would have come up with would be something akin to the very lame “I thought you were great in The Devil’s Double“, so I’m glad I didn’t embarrass myself. I don’t mix well with well-known folk. In the interview, Dominic was hilarious as he answered questions about the price of a pint of milk and other similarly frivolous topics. It was a very amusing session.

The next event, taking place in the same screen, was Writing The Inbetweeners. Iain Morris and Damon Beesley, writers of the television show and upcoming movie, answered questions. I am not the biggest fan of the show, but the pair made the session entertaining with their anecdotes about working with the cast on set and coming up with ideas. After the Q & A, audience-members were invited to ask questions. Both Iain and Damon were great guests, eager to discuss the film and happy to chat with fans afterwards.

Final event of the day for me was the Secret Screening. Ideas for the film had been floating around before, but nobody could or would confirm or deny. I was in receipt of a big clue shortly before the screening, thanks to some good timing. I overheard someone from the film company going into the screen carrying a Lionsgate bag. By our powers of deduction (that is to say, I checked this site on my phone), the options seem limited to Conan the Barbarian or Warrior. My esteemed fellow film writers and I seemed to veer towards Conan until someone astutely pointed out that we had not been given 3D glasses. After a short delay, we all settled down to watch Warrior. The film was good, and surprisingly powerful (review to follow).