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'The Debt' is most under-appreciated film of 2011 (Part 2)

December 31, 2011 | 10:00 am

It features two young stars (Jessica Chastain and Sam Worthington) and one perennial favorite (Helen Mirren). It tackled big themes of revenge and truth in the context of a globetrotting thriller.

For these reasons and others, a majority of you voted for "The Debt" as the most under-appreciated film of 2011.

 Among more than 2,000 readers surveyed, nearly 30% believed the film didn't get the props it deserved, topping a wide range of movies that includes “Warrior,” “Fright Night” and “Margin Call.”

"The Debt" concerns a retired intelligence operative (Mirren) looking back on a Nazi-hunting  mission her younger self (Chastain) and partner (Worthington) undertook decades before. The movie garnered strong reviews (The Times' Besty Sharkey called it a "superbly crafted espionage thriller") and was not neglected at the box office -- the Focus Features release grossed $31 million, making it one of the more successful specialty films of the year. Still, many readers felt it was not given the wider recognition it deserved.

Certainly the movie, which John Madden remade from an Israeli thriller, had a rough road to the box office. After being greenlighted and produced by Miramax Films, it was orphaned as that company was shut down.

A period of limbo followed. Former Miramax parent company Disney first agreed to release it,  then decided against the move. Eventually Focus stepped in to acquire the rights. "The Debt" opened in August, nearly a year after it first played for the public at the Toronto International Fl Festival.

Other movies also failed to gain sufficient recognition, according to the survey. "Margin Call," J.C. Chandor's financial-collapse drama that follows the crisis as it moves up the chain of an investment bank over one night in 2008, earned nearly 20% of your vote.

And "Win WIn," Tom McCarthy's story of a family that takes in a high-school wrestling athlete, came in at a strong 19%; despite stellar reviews and convincing performances, that movie barely took in $10 million.  "Warrior," the Nick Nolte-starring mixed-martial arts drama, finished with 14% of the vote, and earned additional support on Twitter and Facebook.

In winning the "under-appreciated" title, "The Debt" follows in the footsteps of another genre-inflected movie about big themes, the vampire movie "Let Me In." Matt Reeves' Cold War coming-of-age story earned broad support from readers when we posed the question last year.

The honor, though, can be a mixed blessing. As Reeves said after winning the vote: "Here's to having the most over-appreciated movie of next year."


What's the most under-appreciated movie of 2011 (Part 1)

Movie Review: 'The Debt'

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain in "The Debt." Credit: Focus Features

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