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Category: The Debt

'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

What’s the most underappreciated movie of 2011? (Part 1)

December 29, 2011 |  9:36 am


Jessica Chastain in "The Debt"

Last year it was “Never Let Me Go” and “Let Me In.” This year we’re asking the question again — what movie just didn’t get the proper respect, from audiences or critics, over the past 12 months?

We took an informal poll around the office and among some contacts to get a fix on what people felt were some of the least recognized gems of the past year. The list they returned was an eclectic one:

Among the titles that came up: “The Debt,” the long-delayed Nazi-hunting thriller starring Jessica Chastain and Sam Worthington that finally came out this summer; “Rio,”  the Brazil-set animated film that didn’t get the same buzz as some of its CG counterparts; “Fright Night,” Craig Gillespie’s remake of the 1985 horror-comedy that might have gotten buried a little upon its late-summer release; "Win Win," Tom McCarthy's dramedy about a high-school wrestler; and “Warrior,” the Nick Nolte drama about the world of mixed-martial arts.

A pair of Sundance acquisitions also made the list: “Margin Call,” the drama about the financial crisis that unfolds over one nerve-racking night; and “Like Crazy,” the emo love story that was mostly improvised by Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin.

Please vote in our poll below, and use Twitter, Facebook and otherwise comment on any movie we didn’t suggest ("A Better Life"?). We’ll let you know the results in the next few days.




What's the most under-appreciated movie of 2010 (Part 1)

What's the most under-appreciated movie of 2010? (Part 2)

— Steven Zeitchik


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

Did Jessica Chastain's role in 'The Help' pay off for 'The Debt'?

September 5, 2011 |  2:21 pm

Jessica Chastain starred in the top two movies at the box office this weekend
Is there a Jessica Chastain effect at play at the box office?

That’s what some industry executives deduced after "The Help" and "The Debt" -– both of which the actress stars in – were the top two choices among moviegoers at the multiplex this weekend.

"So many people have seen Jessica's performance in 'The Help,' that I think it helped us that she was a familiar face that some people were happy to see again," said Jack Foley, president of domestic distribution for Focus Features, which released "The Debt." "We put our trailer up on 'The Help' -- because we knew that for adult moviegoers going to the movie theater, it was going to be, 'Now we've seen 'The Help,' what can we see this weekend?'"

Although both films may target an adult audience, they are certainly quite different tonally –- and Chastain plays polar opposites in each one. In "The Help," she’s a ditzy blonde whose lack of cooking skills and affinity for low-cut blouses make her a social outcast with the women of the Mississippi Junior League. Meanwhile, as a Mossad secret agent in "The Debt," her strong-willed character is tasked with capturing a Nazi war criminal.

Chastain, 30, was months ago deemed the 'It' girl of the season, for the sheer volume of pictures in which she appears this year. She played a part in the art-house hit "The Tree of Life" released earlier in the year and is featured in three films due by the end of 2011: "Take Shelter," "Texas Killing Fields" and "The Wettest County in the World." Two more of her movies, "Coriolanus" and "Wilde Salome," are making the rounds on the festival circuit.


Lizzie Olsen and Jessica Chastain: 'It' girls shine at HFPA lunch

Box Office: 'The Help' repeats at No. 1 over Labor Day weekend

'The Debt': Helen Mirren plus Jessica Chastain equals one Nazi hunter

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Jessica Chastain as Rachel in "The Debt." Credit: Focus Features

'The Debt' pays off for some critics, shortchanges others

September 2, 2011 | 12:28 pm

The Debt
On paper, the new political thriller "The Debt" has the makings of Oscar bait, including successful source material in the 2007 Israeli film "Ha-Hov" and a cast boasting rising stars (Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington) and established ones (Helen Mirren). But while some critics are praising the film's cast and its intricate plot, about a trio of former Mossad agents confronting their Nazi-hunting past, others are calling it more a pulp film than a prestige picture.

The Times' own Betsy Sharkey is in the former camp. In a very positive review, she writes: "Bristling with dangers both corporeal and cerebral, 'The Debt' is a superbly crafted espionage thriller packed with Israeli-Nazi score settling." Sharkey has kudos for Chastain ("searing") and Mirren ("steely"), who play young and old versions of the same character, and for British director John Madden, who "has woven in a series of tightly coiled and excellently choreographed action sequences that are 'Bourne Identity' quality, making 'The Debt' as bloody as it is brainy."

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