Film Review: The Debt

2011– 113mn – 15

Directed by John Madden. Starring Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Martin Csokas, Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciarian Hinds. Review by Walter Nichols.

The Debt is a solid, competent thriller from director John Madden (Shakespeare In Love) and writers Matthew Vaugn and Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, Stardust). It tells the story of Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain), a Mossad agent who goes on a mission to capture a notorious Nazi criminal during the Cold War, only for him to die on the streets of East Berlin as the mission goes wrong. Now, 30 years later, a man surfaces claiming to be the dead Nazi, and an older Rachel (Helen Mirren) must go back to Eastern Europe with her two fellow agents (Sam Worthington/Tom Wilkinson, and Martin Csokas/Ciaran Hinds) as, in flashbacks, the three relive the trauma of the past.

There’s nothing wrong with The Debt, but it’s unlikely to stick in your memory very long either. Well-crafted, intelligent, and edge-of-your seat in an old-fashioned, pure storytelling kind of way, the film is also too much of a riff on Steven Spielberg’s superior Munich, and in many ways treads ground so familiar that it can’t help but be somewhat predictable. The acting, from the three leads as well as their older counterparts (and including Jesper Christensen, who plays the baddie Surgeon of Birkenau with chilling, Hannibal Lecter intensity), is top-notch throughout, and makes the most of the moral and emotional quandaries faced by their characters.

Madden’s movie might be a straight potboiler, but it has substance and entertainment galore where too many bigger, more expensive films (see this week’s other release for a perfect example) lack either.

Star rating: 3 out of 5 stars