Archive for Jesper Christensen

Spectre: Messy, Long and Boring Cover Up the Fun.

Posted in 6, Action, Drama, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2015 by mducoing

Spectre - IMDBCinematic Law: long and anxiously awaited sequels typically disappoint. Often catastrophically. While not every sequel is a plunge into the abyss (T2, Aliens are just two superiors films), these are often exceptions that prove the rule.

Spectre, while technically the fourth installment of the Daniel Craig Bond franchise, is often considered as the sequel to the mega-hit Skyfall, the final act to director Sam Mendes’ Bond Oeuvre. Viewed in this light, our mentioned cinematic law remains firmly intact.

Premise: Bond is on a trail to uncover a sinister organization at the heart of all his woes. Result: Disappointing.

Spectre finds Bond (Daniel Craig) -some time after M’s (Judi Dench) death- in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, stalking a villain of some sort. A minor chase then ends with a thrilling helicopter battle above the crowded Zocalo resulting in the death of said villain.

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The Debt: A Thrilling, Tragic Ride

Posted in 8, Reviews, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2011 by mducoing

Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Proof) takes a brilliant script from Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan to deliver a masterful thrill ride complete with countless twists and turns while also infusing the story with deep human emotion and complexity.  The Debt, based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, is far beyond the surface, managing a depth of character that is both traumatic and touching, while still somehow retaining the spirit of action and intrigue.

Premise: The espionage thriller crosses decades to bring the complete story of three Mossad agents who undertook the mission to capture an infamous Nazi war criminal Vogel in East Berlin. Result: A thrilling event that brings as much drama as trauma.

There are simply too many twists and turns in The Debt to get too specific without taking away from its brilliant delivery.  The film is based on an account of the capture and death of Dieter Vogel, the Nazi known as the “Surgeon of Birkenau” at the hands of three members of Israeli intelligence.  It is important to note that the operation is more than just a cloak and dagger mission; it supposedly takes place at a fragile time in world politics, where Israel is still relatively young, risen from the ashes of the Holocaust, an apocalyptic event that consumed millions of Jews and many others.

And so, our first story is of these agents, carrying that burden; agents, noteworthy by their youth, rather than by their experience.  There is Stephen Gold (Marton Csokas), David Peretz (Sam Worthington), and Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain) who went to East Berlin to extract the living monster and put him on trial for all the world to see. Our second story takes place thirty years later in Tel Aviv, where these three agents are asked to celebrate the recent publication of a book about their mission some thirty years past and  further commemorate their noble service and success.

Both stories overlap and initially create confusion; but this is entirely by masterful design.  Audiences will be keenly aware that something is desperately wrong in Tel Aviv, but the extent of that wrong is hidden, lurking in the shadows, living in the darkness behind our agent’s eyes, now thirty years older, but aged seemingly hundreds of years. 

Soon enough we are thrust completely into the events of years past.  Madden walks us through the operation, slowly revealing not only the plans but the characters, the flaws and the favors of each of the three agents.  Each is frightened, damaged in some way and has come to be a part of a mission of inexplicable importance but stares into the future with certain terror.  After all, this is a mission to find and an infamous Nazi war criminal, a man capable to such unspeakable evil. Although there is not much detail, enough is done to cloak this man with a veil of evil that oozes from the screen.

As the film progresses, it follows the agents through their plot, revealing secret affections and betrayals as they stumble toward their objective.  But soon, they are faced with disaster and therefore with the monster himself.  Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) is horrible both for what he is and what he is not.  He is as calm as he is calculating, and for some time audiences will wonder if there is something more to the man than the stories.  But soon he reveals his true face, a face more terrifying than expected; he does not spout hatred or blind rage towards them but instead, speaks of his atrocities in a reserved, matter-of-fact manner that defiles the lost souls, that makes him somehow worse than a mad man.

The remainder of the film follows these twisted relationships – between the monster and the agents and then ultimately the agents betweens themselves – illuminating a certain trauma that becomes palpable.  Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds, and Helen Mirren, as the aged versions of these agents, exist in a nether world of agony, all which take different shapes.  Wilkinson, as Gold, the most calculating of the three, is Machiavellian in every way, demonstrating the character of a man bent on survival at all costs.  Hinds and Mirren do not fare well for different reasons, clearly afflicted by the past.

Beyond the script and its brilliant directorial interpretation, the acting stands as the crown jewel of The Debt. Among the three elder agents, Mirren performs with a terrifying brilliance not previously seen since Gosford Park.  Here, like in that film, Mirren is able to transform a potentially subordinated role into a shockingly radiant performance, coinsuring the spirits of both devastation and determination with each pained, vulnerable cringe.  Mirren, is scarred both literally and figuratively by the episode and effectively carries the misery with her, but to her credit, lives on for her daughter Sarah (Romi Aboulafia). Chastain, on the other end of Rachel, is equally powerful, providing the origins of Rachel’s fear and pain in a wonderfully executed performance.

Hinds, as Peretz, perfectly exhibits the evolution of the character begun with Worthington, of an illness that has fully debilitated the once virile, if obsessed, young man.  He withers away on screen before our very eyes taking a role that could have been completely overlooked and made it unavoidable. Worthington does a fantastic job of establishing this character, as a damaged young man, lusting for Rachel, pained by betrayal. For his part, Wilkinson is ruthless in his role, calculating and perfectly villainous. His performance, along with that of his counterpart in Csokas, are a brilliant team, establishing a character we wish to hate and yet understand.

The resolution is this film will likely fill audience members alike with a whirlwind of varying emotions ranging from anger to horror to satisfaction.  Ultimately, The Debt is a film about a trauma and about how people deal with that trauma and progress.  This film is a triumph of action and psychology, supported by strong direction, an even stronger script, and performances that will likely not be forgotten by the Academy.

Rating: 8 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak

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