Projections - Movie Reviews
With Jim Sabatini


The Debt

The Debt
Starring:
Helen Mirren, Claran Hinds, Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Martin Cosokas and Jesper Christensen


Rated: R 
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: August 11, 2011 Released by: Focus Features

This well produced, delayed remake of an espionage tale from John Madden (Proof) moves rather briskly and flows well between eras thirty years apart looking at a dangerous mission of three Israeli Mossad agents and its consequences.
 
The Debt stars Helen Mirren, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Wilkinson (as Rachel, David, and Stephan, respectively) and Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Martin Csokas as their younger intelligence counterparts. Much of the film establishes the latter in their attempts in 1966 East Berlin.
 
Initially, the storyline collaborated by a trio including Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class helmer) begins in 1997 surrounding the hoopla after the publication of a book by Rachel's daughter chronicling the efforts of Rachel, David, and Stephan.
 
A fairly authentic, finely wrought dramatic thriller unfolds as the saga cuts back and forth to aforementioned classified mission. What has been disclosed about it can't hide what lurks traumatically within the trio who presumably brought to justice a known Nazi war criminal, Vogel (Jesper Christensen).
 
As the book tour opens, Rachel (Mirren) and David (Hinds) act like strangers and Stephan (Wilkinson) reveals an act of deeper instability. It seems that the deceased doctor who used Jews as guinea pigs during their confinement has turned up in the Ukraine. So, one of the retired agents has to act on a strong rumor to prevent certain events from becoming public knowledge. The ramifications that could do immeasurable harm to a valued institute and the persons involved. David's knowledge of a local reporter about to publish the "real" story helps to emphasize what makes for personal and political legend.
 
The forced reunion consistently rewinds to the mission as Rachel (Chastain) is coveted by David and Stephan as the dynamic of the group appears to be a bit compromised. Rachel and David have to act as marriage partners, and the former uses a maternal instinct to get what she needs on a rather cunning Vogel. The Nazi doctor is finally subdued with help from her enamored colleagues as emergency assistants as more tension brews when he is abducted into a dingy flat. Especially, the individual encounters with him after it is understood how the agents express what should happen to the captive

The Debt probably owes more to its casting than a narrative flow which doesn't build strongly on its earlier, more tantalizing sections. That doesn't mean that Mirren (having fun in the more comedic Red) can't manifest why she is such a venerated thespian and has good scenes opposite a reliable Hinds (remembered from Munich) in relating the constant anxieties of an Israeli spy.
 
This adult drama opens up some unexpected confidentiality through capable sure-handedness providing some edge-of-your-seat entertainment even if the last reel feels somewhat improbable and anticlimactic. It trumps its setbacks from the way the characters handle the cards they've been dealt and have dealt out. If Mirren is the best among the older, jaded spies, then Worthington (Avatar) cuts an strikingly more nuanced figure in its burst of action and moments of clarity.

  Frank Chris Jim Nina Sam Howard Jennifer Kathleen  Avg. 
The Debt  B+   B   B            B   B-   B 

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