Movie Review: The Debt

IMDB, The Debt“The Debt” on IMDB

Thriller/Drama, 113 Minutes, 2010

In 1997 three retired Mossad agents are enjoying some deserved accolades. A new book is being released about the 1965 mission that made them legends. Then, less that twenty years after the formation of Israel, Mossad’s goal was to bring Nazi war criminals to justice.

The story shifts between the grueling mission, infiltrating East Berlin and apprehending the notorious “Surgeon of Birkenau” for trial, and the ramifications of the their actions in the present. The three agents, Rachel, Stephen and David, are played in the present by veteran actors Helen Mirren [IMDB], Tom Wilkinson [IMDB] and Ciarán Hinds [IMDB] and in the past by Jessica Chastain [IMDB], Martin Csokas [IMDB] and Sam Worthington [IMDB].

While complex politics often weigh down stories in this genre, this is refreshingly simple. The tension arises from human relationships stretched to the breaking point. Rachel must pose as housewife with fertility issues to gain access to their target, who is working as a gynecologist under an assumed name. These scenes, Rachel vulnerable in stirrups, mere inches from the monster, are riveting. Chastain layers her performance masterfully.

As the mission progresses, and then falls apart, the small team is forced to rely utterly on one another. Questions of trust, love and humanity are explored but, like in reality, the answers given often seem trite and meaningless. When pushed to your limits, can you ever really work for the greater good, or are you just rationalizing away your guilt?

The few problems are concentrated in the second act. The action slows to a grinding halt and focuses exclusively on the eroding relationships of the team and their treatment of their hostage target. The entire sequence is the emotional heart of the movie, but also lacks a certain finesse and subtlety that exist elsewhere.

Like any thriller, this is utterly dependent on the performances. There isn’t a poor performance to call out, but Chastain and Mirren carry the film. Both are working at the top of their talents, and are worth the price of admission.

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