The Debt

13 Feb

Director: John Madden

Writers: Matthew Vaughn (screenplay), Jane Goldman (screenplay), and 3 more credits

Stars: Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington and Tom Wilkinson

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 113 minutes



This is based on a 2007 Israeli film called Ha-Hov. I have not seen Ha-Hov, but it seems as though this English language update is very loyal to the source material. Watching The Debt made me wonder if there was a real story and / or a novel behind Ha-Hov, but both films are pure works of fiction (with various nods to modern history).

The story moves between the mid sixties and the late nineties and centres on a secret Mossad mission in East Berlin to capture a WWII Nazi criminal. Three young Mossad agents, Sam Worthington as David, Jessica Chastain as Rachel and Marton Csokas as Stephen, plot to kidnap the ‘surgeon of Birkenau’ and transport him back to Israel to stand trial. The bulk of the film is set in communist Berlin with the undercover agents struggling in their mission. The fallout of the work is revealed in the modern sections with Helen Mirren in the lead role as an aged Rachel (and then Ciaran Hinds as David and Tom Wilkinson as Stephen).

The device of having six different actors to play the three agents works well. I prefer it to using young actors and prosthetic make-up and here it gets six decent actors on to the screen. Of them Chastain and Mirren are very good as Rachel, but Worthington is less than convincing. The story is also good with sixties Berlin captured nicely. A solid amount of thrills, action and drama are delivered, but the ending is weak. Also, the film glosses over two potentially richer narrative threads; firstly how different people learn to live with traumatic pasts and secondly how the semi secret Nazi hunting expeditions of Mossad became so critical to the national psyche of Israel.

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