The Debt takes as its center-piece a fictional 1960’s era attempt by a trio of loyal Israelis to kidnap a hideously unrepentant Nazi war criminal out of East Germany and spirit him back to Jerusalem for trial. The attempt goes awry, and the three are forced into a series of course-changes and compromises that effectively up-end their collective futures.
But does The Debt work as a movie? Well yes, but also no. The movie is at its best in grimy sixties Berlin (of course, Budapest is the convenient stand-in) when Rachel, played with guts by it-girl Jessica Chastain, begins the operation in a series of extremely vulnerable positions. The botched kidnap and the final confrontation in a Ukrainian hospital are truly exciting. But generally I felt it hopped between the two time periods too clumsily and I came away feeling I’d been watching “Munich-lite.”
In February 2002, then US Defense Secretary, the charmless sociopath Donald Rumsfeld said of Iraq: “We know there are known knowns: there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns: that is to say we know there are things we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” That Donald Rumsfeld, he was a moron.
Unknown, starring that unlikely action hero of the moment, Liam Neeson, is certainly more entertaining than the hunt for WMDs, (as well as a lot less costly in terms of both human life and financial capital.) In it, Neeson plays a Doctor who’s just arrived in Berlin with his frosty wife in order to give a speech at some bio-tech convention. However, he’s in a car crash, and he comes to a few days later suffering with amnesia. But not only has he forgotten much of his own life, his wife also seems to have forgotten him. No, really; she’s married to someone else. Smell a rat? Well so does Dr. Liam, and he heads off through the Berlin underworld to try to regain his identity and prove he’s not completely frakkin mad.
So, good film? Yeah, I enjoyed it. It’s more B than A movie, in spite of its aspirations. The car chases are good. January Jones isn’t. Think Taken, with a twist or two for luck. Berlin as a setting looks cold and miserable. (Emanuel Levy has good stuff on the filming.) German Diane Kruger perplexingly appears as a Bosnian (what?) And the bridge that caused all the trouble is the Oberbaumbrücke, which crosses the Spree river and was once a border crossing between east and west. So now you know.
The International, starring Naomi Watts and the grimy, knock-kneed Clive Owen, is a really strange film that I have tried – and failed – to watch on a number of occasions. It looks really good, and there are fantastic locations – Berlin, and a roof-top chase in Istanbul stand out – and there’s a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to build a climate of 70’s style paranoia and fear. But it feels just kind of empty, partly because there’s absolutely zero chemistry of any sort between the stars.
The big final shoot-out at The Guggenheim though is actually a life-sized 36m set, built on location in a disused railway warehouse in Germany. And the chandelier? – that’s fx.