I can't believe I made it through five whole minutes with John Madden without asking him a single football question.

Madden's biggest hit and highest pop-culture profile came in 1998 with "Shakespeare In Love," and it seems like some film nerds have never forgiven him for beating Spielberg's big movie that year.  I think the hard part about having a hit like that is the way it sets up expectation that you'll match that success every time out, and Madden isn't a guy whose career suggests that he'll be in the Oscar hunt every time out.  He had something like fifteen years of film and television work under his belt before he made "Shakespeare,'" and for the most part, he's always been drawn to small-scale intimate material.  He's got a sense of dramatic restraint that comes through clearly in films like "Golden Gate," "Mrs. Brown," and even his TV work like "Theseus & The Minotaur," one of the episodes of Jim Henson's groundbreaking "The Storyteller."

Since the massive success of "Shakespeare," Madden has made a series of high-profile disappointments, at least commercially speaking.  His movie "Killshot" was notoriously shuffled from one release date to another for about six straight years before it finally got dumped, and it's better than that history would suggest.  I thought his film before that, "Proof," was a solid but not quite great film.  He sort of vanished into the Weinstein Company/Miramax limbo that has swallowed other good filmmakers like Lasse Hallstrom in the past.  He is a classic case of how success can hobble a career.

I think "The Debt" is a nice reminder of Madden's skill-set, both with actors and in terms of how he stages big sequences.  In particular, there are a few action sequences in the film that are so well put together that it ended up dominating the conversation when we sat down to talk at a recent press day for the film.  It was a good conversation, and I walked away liking Madden even more.

"The Debt" opens everywhere this Friday.