The Debt - Film Review
Review of the new feature film The Debt starring Helen Mirren ,Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds as a trio of Mossad agents tasked with capturing a war criminal based in East Berlin.
The Debt - Film Review
Another week and another Cold War spy movie hits the cinema screens – this time a remake of an Israeli film Ha-Hov made in 2007. John Madden’s The Debt presents the story of a Mossad mission in East Berlin to capture a Nazi war criminal, Dr.Dieter Vogel - known as the Surgeon of Birkenau and deals with the three Mossad agent’s actions in the original mission in 1966 and the consequences of their actions thirty years later.
The film begins in 1997 with the three Mossad agents , Rachel ( Helen Mirren ) , Stephan ( Tom Wilkinson ) and David ( Ciaran Hinds ) taking stock after disturbing news is beginning to emerge about their famous mission in 1966 to capture the Dr Vogel , Surgeon of Birkenau a Nazi war criminal high on Mossad’s “most wanted “ list . The three agents are revered in their country because of the success of this mission and we see how they have progressed since their original mission.
Rachel is attending the launch of her daughter’s book about the famous mission and reading the relevant chapter concerning the success of the mission , Stephan her now ex husband is still involved at a high level within the security services and David has gone travelling and has just returned home .
We then cut to the original mission in East Berlin in 1966 and see the younger versions of the Mossad trio - Rachel ( Jessica Chastain ) ,Stephan ( Marton Czokas ) and David ( Sam Worthington) planning their mission to capture Dr Vogel ( Jesper Christensen) .They live together in a rundown apartment with a leaky roof but focus on their mission with frequent combat practice and resort to subterfuge to ascertain the identity and lifestyle of the war criminal in their sites .
The mission is given the go ahead and the trio set off to capture Dr Vogel – cue some great action scenes in a gloomy and repressive East Berlin as they try to initiate their plan to capture Vogel and get him on the first plane out of Templehof to Israel to face trial for his war crimes .
Unfortunately, the plan does not go entirely to plan and the trio face the problem of a captive Vogel at their apartment rather than on a plane to Israel.
And so the tale unfolds with the trio under increasing pressure to find a route out of East Berlin for both themselves and their captive and finding support dwindling by the hour as they try to understand how the mission failed and who is responsible. Inevitably their captive seizes upon their insecurities and starts to play mind games to undermine their confidence. This leads to one of the trio cracking and thus “The Debt” is assigned.
The Director does a great job in switching from past to present scenarios and manages to keep the suspense and action going which keeps the viewer interested without being totally confused as is often the case in some films which rely on the flash back / flash forward chronology.
The original mission ends with a secret that all three agents must keep to protect their integrity – roll forward to the present day and we see how they cope with their current lifestyles beginning to unravel because of past ,albeit well intentioned decisions.
If you were to be “picky” you could criticise the fact that the three younger agents do not bear a great physical likeness to their older and current day models but that would take away the fact that this is a well produced and interesting film.
Mirren puts in a good performance as the “older” Rachel, Christensen is superb as the villain of the piece playing the war criminal with an assured and entirely sinister character but the stand out performance is down to Chastain as the “young” Rachel – an assured performance which shows the fragile state of mind of a young girl on her first mission aligned with a steely determination to ensure that the mission is completed.
So, in summary I would recommend The Debt – the Director manages to keep both timelines running well and we see the characters working through their moral dilemmas as well as partaking in the normal spy genre action scenes . Without doubt the best film that I have watched this summer cinema season .