Academy Award winner Helen Mirren’s name and face are thrust forward for this film’s advertisement, but I warn you, don’t go into The Debt expecting a Mirren movie. This film belongs to Chastain (The Tree of Life, The Help), in her third breakout, show stopping performance in less than three months (with two more still on the way for 2011). If ever there was an actor determined and willing to prove to critics and audiences that a star is born, Chastain has already proven that and continues to impress with her range and ability to select roles that distance herself from those previous. The rest of the cast are good enough, but Chastain (the only American of the bunch) is superb.

The past has returned to haunt special undercover agents Rachel Singer (Mirren) and Stephan Gold (Wilkinson), now in the winter of their lives. A decision they made along with David (Worthington), another colleague, has been their secret until a man claiming to be the one they told everyone was dead reaches out to expose their cover up. In 1966 Rachel (Chastain), Stephan (Csokas) and David (Worthington) were carrying out a mission to extract Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) from East Berlin when their perfectly laid out plans got complicated very quickly. The misfit trio made a pact to conceal the truth of their failure, not imagining 30 years later that it would return to destroy their lives.

We don’t get these types of espionage thrillers very often, but The Debt, as much as it is old fashion, is taut and well performed. The director, John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), seems like an odd choice. However, the acting focused director he is proves he was the correct choice. The story’s suspense remains sustained throughout the picture, only cutting back and forth between past and present in the beginning and the end as necessary.

Ironically, much of the script’s internal conflict is effected by Rachel’s choice of bedfellow. Without it’s lighthearted moments, The Debt is a dark film with heavy commanding material. The violence in the film, especially the opening scene, is clearly meant to shock, but also clue the viewer in to the fact that Madden isn’t going to spare the viewer any difficult scenes. The past is where the most time is spent and, whether reflecting on her actions, wanting to take back her desperate choices, or trying to decide how to make things right, we follow Rachel through the most difficult situations, not completely buying into the fact that the beautiful Chastain would mature into the vivacious Mirren. Wilkinson and Hinds appear in less than a handful of scenes, but their presence always brings a higher credibility to the film.

Final Thought – Chastain gives another commanding performance and makes an average thriller superb.

 Grade B

By: Dustin Chase W

Editor: Michael Woody

Tension is dialed at a high level throughout the story, which moves along at a fast pace, with surprising revelations and personal entanglements along the way.  In the process, we are shown the dilemma captors face when they are with a prisoner day after day, and the strain of remaining secret and aloof begins to wear on them—each in a different way.  We’re also shown the strain on individuals of maintaining a “story” and reputation across time that is based on a version of the truth, not entirely accurate.

 This is an excellent film that has substance along with the thrills.

Grade:  A-  By:  Donna R. Copeland

Dr. Donna Copeland’s


  The title of this movie gives no clue about its content.  It turns out to be a thriller that takes place in 1997, involving the activities of three Mossad agents in East Berlin in 1966 and their captive, a Nazi war criminal.  The film opens in 1997, but switches back and forth between the two time frames, gradually clarifying the relationships among the four main characters.  The three agents (each played by a younger and older actor), named Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren), David (Sam Worthington and Ciaran Hinds), and Stefan (Marton Csokas and Tom Wilkinson) hold the criminal Vogel (Jesper Christensen) hostage for a time, but intend to transport him to Israel to stand trial.  These plans go awry, and they have to decide what to do in order to protect themselves.  Eventually, they are venerated as heroes for their mission of removing a dangerous man from the world.  Years later, the consequences of their plan surface, and they are faced with an ethical dilemma once again—whether to give an accurate account of what happened or continue to shade the truth with considerable risk to themselves, their families, and their careers.

 The film’s screenplay was adapted from a 2007 Israeli film, Ha-Hov, and directed by John Madden, best known for his direction of Shakespeare in Love.  The pairs of actors playing the older and younger versions of the three agents are well cast, and believable as the same people with a 30-year span in between.