Mr. Movie

'The Debt' don't go into hock to see it

When a movie sits on a shelf for a year after the original release date is set it’s usually the kiss of death.

Plot flaws, bad acting, zero marketing budget and a host of other problems plague them.

This is not the case of the now-released The Debt or for last week’s Don’t be Afraid of the Dark. The official reason for the delay of both films is not plot problems or a marketing budget but the sale of distributor and art house fave Miramax.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

Unofficially. Neither film is that hot.

And Don’t be Afraid of the Dark -- as I noted last week -- is a total disaster. The Debt has other problems, but the least of its flaws are the plot or the acting.

Both are superb.

It’s 1966 and three Israeli Mossad agents are sent to East Berlin to capture a Nazi war criminal. He’s a gynecologist. Jessica Chastain’s Rachel pretends to be married to Sam Worthington’s David and sees the doctor for fertility problems. After getting the lay of the land and with the leader of their group, Marton Csokas’ Stephan, they grab the guy.

But something goes wrong.

Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) and his three writers do a wonderful job of reworking the 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov. Matthew Vaughn, who co-wrote and directed X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass, his co-writer Jane Goldman, and Peter Straughn -- who did The Men Who Stare at Goats -- produce an intense script that is brilliantly executed by the actors playing the characters in 1966 and in 1997.

The film has a very nice and quite unexpected mid-plot twist, and there's an intense ending. Other critics can spoil the surprise. I won’t.

My difficulty with The Debt isn’t the plot. It’s suspending disbelief in the casting of the actors playing Rachel, David and Stephan of 1966 with Helen Mirren, Ciaran Hinds and Tom Wilkinson who do them in 1997.

Madden, the producers and his casting crew don’t even come close. Worthington doesn’t look like Hinds at all, and Csokas is miscast as Stephan. He might pass as Hinds after a couple of decades but not as Wilkinson. And Chastain doesn’t look a thing like Mirren.

The casting disconnect makes The Debt more like two different films connected only by a common villain.

To their credit, you can understand why the producers opted to not have the three younger actors done up later on as older people. Make-up people can do that and do it very well. Even though Worthington’s star rose in Avatar, Terminator Salvation and Clash of the Titans and Chastain’s performances in The Help and The Tree of Life are drawing raves, the three actors are not that well known or that much of a draw.

Mirren, however, is a genuine star and her name is a box office gold — guaranteed. My hope is that you can suspend casting disbelief and enjoy the suspense and the excellent plot.

Though I give The Debt a passing grade, I could not.

Mr. Movie rating: 3 1/2 stars

Rated R for mature themes, violence, language. It opens today at the Carmike 12 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.