FlixChatter Review: The Debt

It’s nice to see a film you’ve been anticipating actually meets your expectation. I’ve been waiting to see The Debt for quite a while, and when Miramax studio was shut down by Disney last January 2010, I feared that this movie would’ve gone straight to DVD. Fortunately that wasn’t the case, so as soon as the film was released here, I went to see it on opening night.

I love the fact that they put Dame Helen Mirren front and center on the poster, that definitely appealed to me because she is an actor I admire and also because I always love to see a strong female protagonist on film.

The story takes place in flashback mode in the year 1965, when three young Israeli Mossad agents were sent on a secret mission capture and kill a notorious Nazi war criminal. Thirty years later, a man claiming to be the very same Nazi surgeon Dieter Vogel has surfaced in the Ukraine and the former agents must figure out what to do with such revelation that threatens their current reputation.

Moviegoers have seen a fair share of Nazi thrillers to date, but I’d say The Debt has got something different to offer and British director John Madden’s direction keeps the suspense going right up until the end. Even the more mellow moments when they’re holding the criminal captive, the tension doesn’t let up. The look of the movie is gritty and realistic, and the younger actors capture that sense of dread and anxiety convincingly.

It’s especially interesting to see three pairs of actors playing the older and younger versions of the same character: David Peretz (Ciarán Hinds/Sam Worthington), Stephan Gold (Tom Wilkinson/Marton Csokas) and Rachel Singer (Mirren/Chastain). Despite Worthington not resembling Hinds at all, it didn’t really matter in the end as the actors did a good job keeping the integrity of the characters.

Apart from Mirren, the younger actors had more to do in this film as they carry out their mission. The retro scenes were full of edge-of-your-seat moments, especially the scenes in the hospital. I’m not undermining what the two male agents did, but really, Rachel no doubt has the most difficult assignment out of the three, pretending to be a patient of the guy they’re trying to capture who’s working as an gynecologist (’nuff said). Danish actor Jesper Christensen as the sinister Vogel is evil through and through, right up there with Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List.

There is a bit of an unrequited love story interwoven into the espionage plot, but it actually serves the story, so it isn’t just there for the sake of softening things up. I really feel for the characters and I’m glad to say that Worthington is actually more expressive than I’ve seen him in previous films. The rest of the cast are excellent all around, especially Mirren in the last 20 minutes or so. The last scene was brilliantly filmed as Madden kept us guessing for what about to unfold. Let’s just say the film ended with bang that made me jump out of my seat. As I’ve mentioned here, this is the first time I saw Jessica Chastain on screen and I must say I’m quite impressed with her. I look forward to seeing her other movies, which are quite a few in this year alone: The Help, Tree of Life and the upcoming Shakespeare adaptation Coriolanus.

I highly recommend this film for anyone, even those who normally isn’t into Nazi thrillers like this. The violence are unflinching at times but not overly gory. The story itself is intriguing and the dialog is sharp and intelligent, which is no surprise considering it was written by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class). I don’t even mind renting this one again when it’s out on DVD. It’s not every day I come across a solid espionage thriller that’s as taut and well-acted as this one.

4 out of 5 reels


Have you seen this film? I’d love to hear what you think.

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36 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: The Debt

    1. Yeah, I’m glad I saw it on opening night as I didn’t have time this past wknd either. If you love Mirren, you’ll be floored by her in this one.

  1. Hi, Ruth and company:

    Woohoo!

    So glad that ‘The Debt’ lived up to your expectations. I caught it this past weekend at a half full matinee and was thoroughly pleased. The magic or chemistry between Jessica Chastain and Dame Helen Mirren as the young and older Rachel was marvelous to watch!

    Admired the attention to detail given during the mission segments of the film and Sam Worthington turning in a notable performance.

    1. Hi Jack, glad you enjoyed this too. Yeah, Mirren and Chastain are both good. I read somewhere that Chastain studied a lot of Mirren’s performances so I guess that worked well for her. Yeah, Sam was a lot better than he was in Clash of the Titans surely 🙂

  2. Hi Ruth. The first I’d heard of this was when I saw the trailer at Big Screen. The cast is very impressive. I’m not sure whether I’ll catch it at the cinema but I’ll look it up when it’s out on dvd 🙂

  3. Great review Ruth, Ihadn’t eard of this but after reading your review I want to see it. What a cast! I love Helen Mirren and newcomer Jessica Chastain, even though I’ve only seen her in The Tree of Life (surprised you haven’t seen that yet, interested to know your thoughts on it), she has a wonderful screen presence, a quiet beauty about her. I love Ciaran Hinds, he is huge in Ireland and is actually from down the road where I live in Belfast. This sounds like a good film so thanks for the heads up Ruth, will check it out when it comes out in the UK.

    1. Thanks Ronan, the cast was what drew me to this but the story is good, too. Yeah, Tree of Life hasn’t opened wide in my area yet, so I might end up getting it on Blu-ray. Hinds is such an underrated actor, that is cool that he grew up near you. He was great in this little Irish film called The Eclipse, he should get more lead roles IMO. Looking forward to seeing him in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

  4. I loved this movie! I wasn’t surprised to see Vaughn and Goldman were involved…they do good work 🙂

    I don’t know what i was expecting from Worthington but I thought he did really well. The movie belongs to Chastain and Mirren though. i can’t stand it when there’s a different actor playing a young version of a character and they don’t bother to match them up or have them behave similarly (no one would be the same 30 years later). This is definitely not the case here.

    1. Yeah, they’re a great combo, hope they continue to work together in the future.

      Worthington’s got that naturally-stoic face but I thought he handled the emotional parts well, I felt the chemistry between him & Chastain was believable, I actually wanted them to be together. I agree, they pulled off the casting quite well overall. Thanks for your comment, Paula.

  5. Good review, I will try to see this on dvd, as i don’t think i will be able to go to the theaters anytime soon.

    And as for Worthington, my dad has said that you don’t always know what a actor is capable of until they get good material(or something like that).

    1. Boring Dezzy?? Well I know you’re into period drama stuff but I don’t think you’ll find this one tedious. If you love those two, you’ll like this one, both have a decent screen time, especially Mirren.

  6. Glad you liked this Ruth. I shall give this a rent once it makes to Netflix, not really the kind of movie I need to rush to see at the movie theater 🙂 It’s good to hear Worthington was better than you expected.

  7. Glad to see you liked this so much! I did too. but the more I think about it, the more I think it could’ve had a better ending…perhaps not better…just, different. I have to agree with dan at dtmmr in that it ended a little routinely.

    But, I still very much liked it!

    1. Hey T, yeah I was predisposed to liking it I suppose, but it really is well-written & well-made movie. The ending is unexpected, which I appreciate as I didn’t see it coming. It’s not an uplifting one but I think it’s quite satisfying.

  8. Most of my icons are in the older cast. But I am not sure if I want to see it. That is wrong isn’t it?

    Knowing that you liked it Ruth gives me more confidence!! Thanks for the write up. 4/5 is a very good score!

    S

    1. Yes that is wrong, Scott, what’s wrong with you? ha..ha..

      Given that two of your icons are in this and have some screen time together, I think for that alone you’d enjoy this one, Scott.

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