The Debt
dir John Madden
scr Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman, Peter Straughan
prd Eitan Evan, Eduardo Rossoff, Kris Thykier, Matthew Vaughn
with Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds, Jesper Christensen, Romi Aboulafia, Tomer Ben David, Ohev Ben David, Jonathan Uziel, Eli Zohar
release US 31.Aug.11, UK 30.Sep.11
10/UK Miramax 1h54
The Debt
Tell no one: Worthington and Chastain

mirren wilkinson hinds

Helen Mirren and
Jessica Chastain >>

R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Debt A melodramatic tone and fragmented plotting undermines this film's serious edge, almost losing the point in the process. But it has strong characters and a first-rate cast, plus moments that are hugely involving.

In 1965, three young Mossad agents infiltrate East Berlin in search of escaped Nazi killer Vogel (Christensen). In their 20s, a romantic triangle develops between them as Rachel (Chastain) finds herself attracted to both David (Worthington) and their leader Stefan (Csokas). But the mission takes an unexpected turn. And 30 years later, Rachel, David and Stefan (now Mirren, Hinds and Wilkinson) are forced to face up to the truth of what happened, even if it might undermine the official story of their heroism.

A remake of the 2007 Israeli film, this version benefits from the high-wattage casting, with stand-out performances from rising star Chastain and the always terrific Mirren, who gets some steely action moments of her own. Director Madden slants everything his actors' strengths, playing up the interpersonal relationships to highlight layers of tension between them. The film's strongest section is when the your operatives are holding Vogel in a safe house and he starts messing with their heads.

Unfortunately, this intensity doesn't continue into the other dramatic scenes, and the constant flicking back and forth in time doesn't help (nor does one casting error: Csokas looks exactly like a young Hinds, but actually plays the young Wilkinson). The romantic connections between Rachel and her two colleagues are never developed much beyond sideways glances and furtive kisses. And this isn't reflected at all in the present-day scenes, so it becomes a distraction from the real story, leaving the film feeling vague and lifeless. It's pointless rooting for a relationship when we know it's not going anywhere.

That said, the dialog snaps to life now and then, revealing telling details about these people. But the screenwriters sidestep the contentious subject of Israel's clandestine operation to track down SS officers. Issues of racism and genocide may flare up occasionally in conversation, but they seem to only be words thrown around for effect rather than any actual attempt to either explore these events or to bring some resonance to them.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 3.May.11

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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall