Thursday, July 7, 2016

levelFILM Film Review - The Debt

Oliver Campbell (Stephen Dorff) has spent a significant amount of the past two years mastering Spanish and ignoring his young family while working on a major land deal in Peru. The local farms are failing and he and his partner childhood friend Ricardo (Alberto Ammann) are buying up the farms for pennies on the dollar. Local businessman Ruben Caravado (Carlos Bardeem) is also busy in the area targeting one specific remote mountain region but one land owner Florintino Gammara  (Amiel Saya) does not trust Caravado or any other potential landlord and refuses to sell. Florintino's son Diego (Melvin Quijada) has lost track of the family llama Chico while gazing at a military helicopter that often flies around the mountain tops. Furious and knowing the importance of the Llama to the teetering farm and herd Florintino orders Diego to find the llama and not return until his task is complete.

In Lima nurse Maria Ruiz (Elsa Olivero) takes care of her sick mother who needs constant supervision at home.  She is having seizures that are getting worse but does not qualify under state rules for the surgery needed to correct her ailment. Maria can move her mother to the front of the line for a fee bit does not have the funds on hand plus she needs the signature of the chief doctor on staff to make the surgery happen.

Writer / Director Barney Elliot creates a straight ahead narrative with enough linear shifts and bends  to build real tension in the production. The main characters do not act to type with many appearing to be of one nature then perform and react differently than expected during key points in the film. Cinematography Bjorn Stalle excels at setting the mood through colour for each location of the shoot. His work is especially notable during the scenes in the Peruvian Mountains using the natural light of the expansive landscape. Stalle contrasts these scenes with the use of mainly muted blues and blacks in the  New York and Lima indoor and outdoor city scenes.

Stephen Dorff provides one of his stronger performances in recent years as Oliver Campbell. The viewer can't be faulted for thinking that this script went through many hands before landing with him but Dorff is seamless as the well groomed slick Wall Street businessman switching easily back and forth between Spanish and English while he dispassionately scoops up farms that the inhabitants have been on the land for generations dating back to when many escaped from slavery.  Carlos Bardem is key performer as Ruben Caravado. He is Oliver's key rival a shrewd local option to the farmers but very tactical shielding a guarded true agenda. Elsa Olivero character Maria is the centre of a strong counterbalance to the financial plot line. She is a caring nurse in an underfunded overcrowded hospital. She is also willing to do whatever it takes to get her mother the surgery she needs including taking extreme risks and making decisions that are unexpected of a career caregiver

The Debt is a tense entertaining financial thriller. The principal cast starts out in recognizable roles but by their choices and actions throughout the piece add depth and complexity to their characters. The settings of Lima, New York and the Peruvian Mountains offer a pleasing contrast to the production and a palate for the superior cinematography work in the film to shine.  It's a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

The Debt | Barney Elliott | U.S.A. / Spain / Peru | 2015 | 99 Minutes.

Tags: Finance, Land Deal, 60 Million, Farmers, Bonds, Government, Seizures, Affair, Llama, Helicopter, Peru, Lima, Pills, Needles.

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