The Debt

Sturdy spy thriller features three Israeli intelligence agents who must return to Eastern Europe when the questionable reappearance of a Nazi war criminal, long thought dead, reappears. The time period vacillates between the present and the past as we uncover the story. But sometimes truth is not the same as the reality people know. Our protagonists are haunted by the past and much of the plot concerns the discovery of what really happened back in 1966. The Debt is actually a remake of a 2007 Israeli film of the same name. This new version, scheduled for release in late 2010, was delayed due to the sale of parent studio Miramax. Now it finally sees the light of day released amidst the dumping ground known as Labor Day weekend.

At first glance this feels like an Oscar caliber offering. It’s executed by celebrated English director John Madden who was responsible for Shakespeare in Love way back in 1998 . It also stars Academy Award winning actress Helen Mirren and Oscar nominated actor Tom Wilkinson. Likewise, the rest of the actors are pretty respected as well. Um the subject involves the Holocaust. Need I say more? But despite that pedigree, The Debt has a much more populist feel to it. Credit writer Matthew Vaughn, recognized for summer action flicks like Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but the movie winds up not fully succeeding in either style.

The cast is large. We have 6 actors playing 3 parts in younger and older versions. Although everyone puts in solid work, the casting is somewhat flawed. Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington do not readily suggest their aged counterparts portrayed by Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds, respectively. It’s difficult to tell who is supposed to be who. Their personalities are not magnetic enough to make this clear and they don’t even physically resemble each other. Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren as Rachel Singer are by far the most impressive. Obviously being female makes matching them up easy, but they both put in solid work. Their performances elevate this thriller beyond the routine. This is Jessica Chastain’s 3rd high profile production this year and she has a full slate still to come. She seems poised for superstardom. Without a doubt, THE actress to watch.

After a slow beginning, the drama picks up with the introduction of Nazi doctor and war criminal Dieter Vogel played by Jesper Christensen, the “Surgeon of Birkenau”. He’s great. His interaction with the three leads provides the subject with its most affecting moments. There’s a particularly a gut wrenching conversation with Sam Worthington’s character that is the most intense situation of the entire picture. If the script had included more raw emotion like this, it could have been a searing study of a shocking historical period. Instead there are too many ho-hum situations. The love triangle plot for example is a contrivance. As it stands, the movie is adequate. See it for Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren. But its story with respect to the Holocaust, is less than stellar.

7 Responses to “The Debt”

  1. Good review 🙂 I really wanted this to be great after reading the premise and the cast. I’m really curious about Jessica Chastain, she’s certainly been all over the place, but I haven’t yet catched any of her films (Tree of Life, The Help, this) and I really want to see the next big thing in action. Helen Mirren is always great, of course. But Sam Worthington just doesn’t convince me. Not talented enough or charismatic enough.


    • fastfilmreviews Says:

      I agree with you about Sam Worthington. I am thoroughly unimpressed. I have yet to see him give a performance that I remember.


  2. Jessica was my favorite in this movie. I expected it to be better. Helen and Jessica’s character seemed to be two different people. Barely a positive review from me.


    • fastfilmreviews Says:

      Jessica Chastain seems to have magically appeared in all these high profile pictures in just 1 year. She’s good, but I think her agent is even better.


  3. hi mark, once again i think you hit the nail on the head. i thought the film was slow and predictable for the first say, 30 minutes. when the revelation occurs it becomes an entirely new film, worth watching. helen miren could read the phone book as far as im concerned . and jessica chastain is not far behind in her acting ability. she is showing great range already


  4. hi Mark, good review, i just watched this yesterday , and i agree with your notes.
    The casting of Sam Worthington and Ciara Hinds, as his aged counterpart, is so wrong that it is odd. there is zero, or even a negative resemblance. Just consider the eyes. Worthington’s are beady, while Hinds is big and round. What were the film makers thinking?
    But nevertheless, the film is engaging. It’s quite intense in some parts. Their plan to capture the Surgeon was clever. and The holocaust photos that Jessica Chastain was looking at will stay with me for a while–horrifying


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