Focus Features will try to make a hit out of Sam Worthington’s ‘The Debt’

Last summer, one picture that seemed like a potential awards player was Miramax’s “The Debt.”  The dramatic thriller starred Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain (the upcoming “The Tree of Life” and Sundance premiere “Taking Shelter”), Marton Csokas (“The Bourne Supremacy”), Jesper Christensen (“Casino Royale”), Ciarán Hinds and two-time Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson.  It was also seen as a potential comeback for “Shakespeare in Love” helmer John Madden who has had a rough decade since that surprise Academy Award-winning champ. And, it featured the Oscar-friendly subject matter of a Jewish Mossad crew taking out an evil Nazi doctor now in hiding in East Germany.  Add in the prestige of premiering at the Deauville and Toronto Film Festivals this past September and you’ve got a prime awards season candidate. And then the press saw it.

As I wrote in my review from Toronto, “The Debt” was an incredibly frustrating experience. For the first two acts we witnessed great performances from Mirren, Wilkinson and Chastain and some inspired direction from Madden as the story goes back and forth and the mystery of what happens to the doctor deepens.  And then, sadly, the film jumps the shark in a plot turn that made some in my audience gasp in a “you’ve got to be kidding me reaction.”  It wasn’t surprising then that Disney, which still controlled the picture while they worked out a sale for their Miramax division, pulled out of a late December release (it didn’t help that Mirren’s other Miramax flick, “The Tempest,” was also a turd).  

Miramax’s new owners took over with no intention of creating a marketing or distribution team which put “The Debt’s” future in doubt which was surprising considering that Mirren and Worthington should at least be able to provide some interest in a limited release.  Fear not moviefans, Focus Features has come to the rescue.

In a release today, Focus and Miramax announced “The Debt” will be released nationwide Aug. 31.  Focus has had a lot of success in that pre-Labor Day weekend slot with such last summer performers as “The Constant Gardener” and “The American.”  Whether “The Debt” can make a something of a comeback, however, still remains to be seen.

Check out the trailer Disney cut for “The Debt” embedded in this page and share your thoughts below.