If ever you wanted proof that democracy is an inherently flawed concept and that we should all move to a glorious dictatorship, then the announcement of today’s Orange Rising Star Award is a case in point, a catalogue of idiocy that reflects poorly on you, me and everyone we know. Most awards ceremonies are content with allowing 40-50% of their decisions to look bad at the time and worse on reflection, but the BAFTA film awards seem to have come in for a particular level of stick, as the recent announcement of the longlist seemed to please precisely no-one.
But the Orange Rising Star award, the one publicly nominated award at the BAFTA ceremony next month, has taken the cake, the biscuit and various other types of confectionery for levels of general stupidity, and no-one is free from judgement here.
1. The Orange Rising Star award is stupid
I don’t disagree as such with the idea of a rising star award, as if you’re going to hand out glittery baubles to people for being in films, you might as well reward newcomers. But in the six years it’s been handed out so far, the Rising Star award has largely been given to people who’ve somewhat, er, risen. Over the last three years, it’s gone firstly to Noel Clarke, who’d been on screens in Doctor Who for four years, and was nominated on the strength writing and directing a sequel to a film that he’d also written, two years earlier. Two years ago, Kristen Stewart was hardly fresh faced when she won on the strength of several Twilight films, and last year was Tom Hardy.
I have a heterosexual man crush on Tom Hardy almost as big as the one I have for Ryan Gosling – i.e. huge – but he was the bad guy in a Star Trek film ten years earlier, had won an Evening Standard Theatre award in 2003, and even his turn in Bronson was the year before his smallish part in Inception finally got nominated for the award. Tom Hardy, Rising Star in 2011, was 33 at the time he picked up the award. Whoever thinks these people are rising stars are idiots.
2. The voting process for the Orange Rising Star award is stupid
The announcement today was of the final shortlist. This is a shortlist of five that’s been selected from a longlist of eight. It’s difficult to consider this to be anything other than a shameless marketing exercise on the part of Orange, as if you’re going to ask a panel of experts to pick a list of eight people, then eliminate only three of them in the first public vote, why not just get the experts to pick five in the first place? Or cut from eight to three? Asking the public to vote twice, for something with little return for their second vote, just feels overly cynical. Whoever put together this process is an idiot.
3. The five choices out of the eight nominees are idiotic
Jessica Chastain. Remember her? My top ginger of 2011, she went from relative obscurity to worldwide stardom in 2011, having been in… (deep breath) The Tree Of Life, The Debt, The Help, Texas Killing Fields, Take Shelter and Coriolanus in the last twelve months. Surely the textbook definition of someone whose star is rising. If the Queen of Gingers isn’t to your liking, though, then consider Jennifer Lawrence. Unbelievably powerful in Winter’s Bone, she followed it up with a scene-stealing turn in the X-Men prequel this year, and has nabbed the starring role in the next big Harry Potter / Twilight type thing, The Hunger Games.
Sadly, both of these up and coming talents (and Felicity Jones) have missed out on the final five, at the expense of the people in the picture at the top. If you know numbers one and four in that line up on sight, then you’re doing very well. Any award ceremony that puts them in (and they are Adam Deacon and Eddie Redmayne) above Chastain and Lawrence has committed a fail of the most epic variety. And whose half-brained decision was that, exactly? Ours, of course. The public failed to vote in big enough numbers to keep the right people in, or indeed to have the sense of taste to work out who the right people were. People are idiots.
4. Anyone who didn’t vote and who allowed this injustice to happen is an idiot
I didn’t vote. I’m an idiot.
The Review: Sam Worthington could very well be the Kevin Costner of his generation. Kevin had a knack for the dramatic equivalent of being the straight man in a comedy show, a stoic pivot at the centre of a film where those around him would do all the heavy lifting in the acting department. From JFK to The Untouchables, from Field Of Dreams to Robin Hood, Costner assembled a diverse body of work, most of which is excellent and most of which he’s doing less acting than his colleagues in. Worthington has already secured a number of lead roles, and has now been inexplicably cast in an ensemble drama where he’s required to act at the same level as both his contemporaries and some great actors of earlier generations.
I would love to say that Sam steps up and knocks it out of the park, but consider the acting talent he’s been recruited with. At the older end, you’ve got Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds portraying the Nineties versions of the lead trio, retired Mossad agents who achieved glory in their younger days. In the contemporary category, Martin Csokas and Jessica Chastain, with Chastain especially marked out for great things after her last lead role opposite Brad Pitt in The Tree Of Life. Against that kind of competition, Worthington never stood a chance, but if the film had used him to his best effect, rather than putting him through the harrowing experience of asking him to act (you can almost see the acting gears churning behind his concentrated face), then it need never have been a problem.
You see, there’s two competing films in here, and The Debt is never quite sure which one it wants to be. There’s the exploits of Worthington’s trio in Sixties Berlin, attempting to track down a Nazi war criminal (the excellent Jesper Christensen) and to bring him to justice, and the human drama of their conflict both in the Sixties and in the Nineties. Scenes between Chastain and Christensen are excellent, and the drama is exploited for all of its meaty possibilities; the thriller elements, involving the capture and fate of the team’s quarry, are also tense and keep the attention throughout. It’s just the use of personnel at certain points that allows the film to flag a little, which isn’t the fault of the actors but could have been remedied either by writers Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughn or by director John Madden with a little more care.
The other failing of the film also has to be placed with writers and director. While I’ve never attempted to act myself, I did once study the piano, and my teacher told me that if I looked after the start and end of the piece, the middle would take care if itself. If only Madden and co had been able to heed this advice; the start is flabby, and consists of over twenty minutes of flashbacks and forwards and sideways glances and the characters not stating their true purpose, all of which mean that The Debt takes much longer than it should to gain momentum. The ending is also problematic, not least when a film that recasts its core roles between generations suddenly has one actor turn up in very poor old age make-up, and also when the final twists and turns descend into silliness and stifle the dramatic resolution. The Debt has brilliant parts, but is less satisfying as a whole and someone needs to work out quickly how to use Sam Worthington – for both his sake and ours.
Why see it at the cinema: If you can get past the choppiness of the opening then there’s a large chunk of a good film here, and seeing it in a cinema will fully allow the tension to grab you and draw you in. On the way out, you can see how many people kept a straight face all the way to the end…
The Score: 7/10