Title: The Debt
Director: John Madden
Starring: Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, Tom Wilkinson, Jesper Christensen, Ciaran Hinds, Romi Aboulafia
The Debt is one of those movies where one simply needs to read the synopsis when deciding whether or not to give this a look. It’s a balanced spy-thriller where there is just as much rhetoric as there is old-school action sequences – due to the fact that this 114 minute flick takes place in Germany in 1965.
Knowing that, the script is penned by the fantastical Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class), who has found a way to blend substantial moments with over-the-top fun in his short, yet successful, writing credits. This time around, there is no time for laughs or even smiles, as The Debt is serious gritty business.
The story begins in 1997 with former Israeli agents Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) & Stephan Gold (Tom Wilkinson in a wheelchair) being celebrated by their daughter Sarah’s (Romi Aboulafia) literary account of how their team – which also included the absent David (Ciaran Hinds) – captured a Nazi war criminal, who was known as the Surgeon of Birkenau (Jesper Christensen). During the ceremony, Rachel is asked to read a chapter that depicts the climatic moment in their successful mission that is continuously lauded over the years in their home country.
At this point in the story, the film goes into flashback mode during the above reading, where the team of Rachel (Jessica Chastain), Stephan (Marton Csokas) and David (Sam Worthington) and devising a scheme to capture the famed torturer, who is hiding under the identity as a doctor with a legit practice. Once the reading concludes, the story quickly jumps back to 1997 where Stephan alerts his ex-wife Rachel that something from that mission may come back to haunt the entire team.
Once the audience sees that little exchange, the film goes back to 1965 Berlin and the entire mission that has been heralded throughout the years goes on display.
Although this captivating story is paced fairly well and the performances are all solid, there are some sloppy moments mechanically. First off, why Ciaran Hinds was chosen to portray an older Sam Worthington is just laughable. They look nothing alike! It doesn’t make or break the movie, but man that’s just lazy. They would have been better off just using a prosthetic on Worthington’s face. Minor examples such as this are really the only things that hamper the tone of this product (or just royally bug me).
A few other sequences where the film jumps back to 1997 – when the focus is on Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson – showed clever storytelling but placed the elder characters in situations that may be considered a stretch for the audience to buy into based on certain actions.
In all seriousness though, the last paragraph or two are drops in the proverbial bucket compared to the rest of the screenplay. Just when you think this flick has lost its marbles, the beautifully orchestrated twist comes in and this story is instantly elevated in your mind. It was already good to begin with, yet it gives one an emotional injection that keeps the interest levels high as the rest of the tale plays out. And both ladies, who are essentially playing the same character, rock this show in both the dialogue and action sequences.
Overall, The Debt gives the audience their money’s worth. A top-notch cast along with the creative delivery of the script pays-off by the time the credits roll. The performances and screenplay easily cover up the sparse continuity errors (eye-rollers) one may catch.
Review by Joe Belcastro