The Three Musketeers

It’s always nice when a film exceeds your expectations – admittedly mine were pretty low for this film – but it was much more enjoyable than I had imagined it would be.

The Musketeers themselves were the backbone of the story (obviously) but the three older ones – Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans) and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) outshone Logan Lerman’s D’artagnan for much of the film. All of the characters followed well-worn story arcs, but there was enough charm and camaraderie to make their interactions believable and interesting.

The baddies were suitable bad – Orlando Bloom’s big-haired Duke of Buckingham was an enjoyably slimy foil for embittered Athos, but in terms of double dealing and real up-to-no-goodness, Christoph Waltz’ Cardinal crept away with the prize.

Lots of swashbuckling adventures and brilliant swordplay, humour that’s just a little bit cliched but funny all the same (thank you James Corden as the Musketeer’s servant Planchet) and mid-air battles between giant air ships. For outright spectacle you couldn’t ask for more. At times, it was easy to forget that you weren’t watching a Disney Pirates movie – and Musketeers had everything in that Pirates 2-4 has lacked, but there was enough invention that it didn’t feel copied. Except for the music, which had many main themes that sounded as though they’d been lifted straight from Hans Zimmer’s Pirates OSTs.

Outrageously sumptuous set design, costumes and over-the-top characters make The Three Musketeers a wonderfully silly spectacle that enjoyably wiles away just under two hours. Well worth a watch.

The Debt

This film flickers back and forth between the “present” of 1997 and the events of 1966 when three young Mossad agents were tracking down a war criminal with the intent of bringing him to justice. The trio in 1997 are played by Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds, and in 1966 by Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington respectively. The casting is brilliant, with the shadow of their younger selves visible in the older agents both physically and psychologically as they deal with a past never fully put behind them.

The story is well told and handled as we have come to expect from Matthew Vaugn and Jane Goldman, with the tension being ratcheted up nicely by cuts between the time periods and the wonderful performance by Jesper Christensen as Vogel – both monstrous and worryingly human in places. The Mossad agents – ambitious Stephan (Csokas), young and un-blooded Rachel (Chastain) and the distant, damaged David (Worthington) are believable and again, all too human in their reactions to the situation, but at times their characters seemed a little like cardboard cut-outs, and the film never really gets under their skin, telling you how they feel and react rather than letting you know them so well you understand them.

The action in the film is brutal and understated – tightly reined in to only what is necessary for the story… until the last third. Then the harsh realism is shaken a little by a strange chase sequence, and final confrontation that would have seemed more at home in a Bourne film or perhaps RED in which Helen Mirren also played a retired secret agent who returns to the field. The ending wasn’t enough to bring the rest of the film down with it, and it wasn’t so jarring that it could sit with what had gone before – it just didn’t seem to sit comfortably with the direction in which the earlier parts of the film had seemed to be heading. The success of their “mission” didn’t really seem the point of the film at first – from the title and it’s retrospective storytelling style it seemed to deal more with the repercussions of the actions of youth, of what one owes their country, their friends and families and themselves.

The Debt is a very good, very tight film that stumbles slightly in the third act but not enough to detract from the overall experience – a thriller based as much in the mind as in sixties East Germany.