Under Review: ‘The Debt’


Directed by John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love” and “Proof”) and written by Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass,” “X-Men: First Class”), “The Debt” is an American remake of a 2007 Israeli film that takes place in two different eras. It follows a trio of undercover Mossad officers, each of who are played by two actors. The film is compelling, gritty, exciting and heartfelt and really showcases the talents of everyone involved, especially the women who play Rachel Singer in the film, Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren.

The story starts off in 1997, where we see the reunion of three retired Mossad officers: David (Ciarán Hinds), Rachel Singer (Mirren) and Stefan (Tom Wilkinson). They have lived the latter half of their lives being celebrated for bringing to justice a Nazi war criminal (Jesper Christensen), who was responsible for the torture, death and experimentation of countless Jews during World War II.

When Rachel is being honored at the book-launch of her daughter’s retelling of what happened 40 years ago, we are transported to the ’60s — where we get to see the events, but not the way it has been told. The true version of the mission has been hidden by the three agents all of these years.

I don’t want to get too much into the story because the anticipation and surprises are part of what makes the movie so touching and exciting. The three younger versions of the characters are played by Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain and Marton Csokas. The duality of these characters is enhanced by the moving and heartfelt authenticity each actor brings.

Each character has a motivation to succeed in this mission. David lost his family during the war because of the Nazis, Stefan is the less-serious of the group even though he is the commander of the mission and Rachel is trying to prove herself and this is her first time in the field. The objective is clear, Rachel and David pose as a married couple who are having trouble conceiving and they go to Doktor Bernhardt, who is now living as Dieter Vogel, a gynecologist in East Berlin.

When their mission to capture the doctor and escape the country goes wrong, they must keep him under constant guard in their tiny apartment until they can find another way to escape. This begins to take a psychological toll on each of the captors as he begins to play with their minds hoping they will lose their temper and kill him. One of the most affected by this is Rachel, who has some deep-rooted connection to the Jews tortured past and this diabolical monster of a man.

The film is constantly moving, which is good for pace, but its constant shift back and forth from the past to the present might make the continuity hard for some to comprehend. The movie has some deep emotional undertones as we see Rachel, David and Stefan struggle with the raw emotions brought to the surface by their close proximity to this prisoner.

I was impressed at how each set of actors mimicked their counterparts to convey the sense that they were the same person. It was interesting to see the end result of whom each of them become, as was going back to see their physical and emotional journey to get there. Chastain really surprised me with the level of toughness she brought to the portrayal of the heroine.

So are you planning on seeing “The Debt” in theaters? If so what makes you want to see it the most; the actors, story or genre? Leave a comment and let us know.

“The Debt” is rated R for violence and language and opens in theaters today.

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