The Mission 

Well-crafted espionage mechanics drive thriller remake The Debt.

Csokas, Worthington, and Chastain in The Debt

Csokas, Worthington, and Chastain in The Debt

A remake of the 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov, the high-toned thriller The Debt operates on two tracks, set partly in 1965 East Berlin and partly in 1997 Israel, with two trios of actors playing the same characters decades apart.

In the film's present, a young author is presenting her new book, an exciting historical account of Nazi-hunting Mossad agents tracking a Josef Mengele-type concentration camp monster, "The Surgeon of Birkenau" (Jesper Christensen)," in East Berlin, an episode that ends with one agent, the author's mother, shooting the war criminal in the street to keep him from fleeing.

The three now-middle-aged agents — Rachel (Helen Mirren), Stephan (Tom Wilkinson), and David (Ciarán Hinds) — are uneasy about the attention, in different ways, and we soon find out why, as the film flashes back to Berlin to show that the real story differs from the official one.

In 1965, we see new agent Rachel (Jessica Chastain), in the field for the first time, posing as the wife of David (Sam Worthington), whom she meets at an East Berlin checkpoint. They're sharing a barren apartment with mission leader Stephan (Marton Csokas), the most pragmatic, least idealistic and ideological of the crew. The target is living under a new name and practicing as an obstetrician and the plan to get close to him is to have Rachel set an appointment as a wife with fertility problems.

The Debt thrives in its 1965 period via a series of well-staged espionage set pieces — the mission preparation, Rachel's unsettling reconnaissance mission, the exciting heist-like abduction, and the failed nighttime extrication at a border train station.

Their orders had been to bring the former Nazi back to Israel for a trial, but when the extrication fails, the trio are stuck holding the prisoner back in their Berlin apartment — bound and gagged — a situation that's meant to make their once righteous mission more morally tangled.

As directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), The Debt is more assured as a traditional cloak-and-dagger piece than it is with the ethical gray areas, lacking the searching discomfort of the other recent Hollywood Mossad movie, Steven Spielberg's Munich.

For most of the film, moral questions are obscured by the tight genre mechanics. With a third act that finds the 1997-era Rachel and Stephan trying to clean up the loose ends of the past, The Debt's larger issues are fully — if unintentionally — submerged in genre mechanics.

I'll confess to struggling somewhat with the film's casting of the male roles. Worthington plays the younger version of Hinds but seems a better physical match for the fairer Wilkinson. Meanwhile, Csokas, who plays the younger Wilkinson, looks much more like Hinds.

As someone who often doesn't register character names in movies, I found this disorienting and it took me a bit to sort out. Luckily, the men here are strictly secondary. And while Oscar winner Mirren gives a handsome performance, the star here is the suddenly ubiquitous Chastain, who is commanding in a more physically demanding and diverse role than her graceful earth mother in The Tree of Life or good-natured outcast in The Help.

The Debt
Rated R · 113 min. · 2011
Official Site: www.SeeTheDebt.com
Director: John Madden
Writer: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan
Producer: Matthew Vaughn, Kris Thykier, Eitan Evan and Eduardo Rossoff
Cast: Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Wilkinson, Jesper Christensen, Romi Aboulafia, Adar Beck and Nitzan Sharron

Trailer


Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for The Debt

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • Lady Bird

      Greta Gerwig directs Saoirse Ronan in the dazzling coming of age comedy
    • Thor: Ragnarok

      Taika Waititi takes The God of Thunder in a comedic direction

Blogs

Tiger Blue

Tigers 63, New Orleans 52

Beyond the Arc

Blazers 100, Grizzlies 92: Five Thoughts

Hungry Memphis

South Main Market grand opening Dec. 2

From My Seat

Frank's Memphis Sports Thanksgiving

Hungry Memphis

Sunrise opening Nov. 27

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Chris Herrington

  • Last Words

    In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
    • Sep 26, 2013
  • Masters of Sound

    New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
    • Sep 19, 2013
  • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

    • Sep 19, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation