The Debt (2010) Directed by John Madden. With Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain and Sam Worthington.
Considering the film has a title about as inviting as your average e-mail spam folder, John Madden’s The Debt turns out to be a surprisingly engaging thriller. Before we start, it’s worth noting this is a remake of a little seen Israeli film of the same name. The story circulates around three Mossad operatives in the 1960’s and their brave attempt to capture Dieter Vogel a.k.a – the surgeon of Birkenau”, a sadistic Nazi war-criminal played by the excellent Jesper Christensen. Structurally, the film cuts between two time periods. As well as witnessing events around the mission to apprehend Vogel in the ’60’s, we see the same character’s played by different actors in the aftermath thirty-years later.
In a way, it feels like two films, awkwardly glued together. The 1960’s segments are by far the strongest, with Jessica Chastain in particular, giving a fine performance. Thanks to the heavyweight acting presence in the ’90’s sections, though (Helen Mirren andTom Wilkinson), the film never goes so far as to disengage. Unlike Steven Spielberg’s Munich, which clocked in at 2hrs 44mins and felt overly baggy, The Debt has a sensible, get-in-and get-out runtime which helps in keeping it focused. The final third might draw criticism from some, but when it came, I felt as though the film had done enough to get away with it. An efficient and workmanlike thriller with strong themes of revenge and regret. 3.5/5