The Debt Review
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After years of dedicated movie-watching, I think I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve learned, for instance, that you can’t judge a movie by its credits. Good directors—and good actors—sometimes make horrible films. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the spy thriller The Debt has a pretty impressive pedigree. After all, the screenplay was adapted (from the 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov) by Matthew Vaughn and his frequent collaborator, Jane Goldman (who’ve also teamed up for movies like Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class). It was directed by Oscar nominee John Madden (Shakespeare in Love). And it stars some the best of Hollywood’s mature stars (Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson), as well as some of the biggest of Hollywood’s new stars (Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain). Seeing such an impressive cast and crew involved in an unimpressive film would be a major let down—but, fortunately, The Debt doesn’t disappoint.

In 1965, three young Mossad agents—Stephan (Marton Csokas), David (Worthington), and Rachel (Chastain)—traveled to East Berlin on a dangerous mission to track down the Nazi war criminal known as the Surgeon of Birkenau (Jesper Christensen). Ever since they completed their mission, they’ve been seen as heroes.

Now, it’s 1997. As Rachel (now played by Mirren) celebrates the publication of her daughter’s book about the mission, her ex-husband, Stephan (Wilkinson), arrives with bad news about their former colleague, David (Ciarán Hinds). The news brings back a flood of memories, along with a new danger that threatens to reveal secrets that the three young agents thought would never surface.

Shifting back and forth from the mission in 1960s East Berlin to the shocking revelations of 1997, The Debt is both an intense spy thriller and a captivating drama. The breathtaking suspense is nearly non-stop as the young agents prepare for—and carry out—their mission, often with unexpected results.

The characters, meanwhile, are more developed than the average action heroes. As the young agents find themselves confined to their small East Berlin apartment, waiting for a way out of the country, the film explores each one—but especially Rachel and David—in surprising depth, examining their personalities, their relationships, their goals, and their motivation. While Stephan stays focused on the details of the mission, Rachel and David find themselves emotionally affected—never a good situation for a spy—and it makes them both susceptible to their prisoner’s clever manipulation.

All three actors do a fantastic job of portraying their characters’ frustration, desperation, and fear—but Chastain stands out, once again proving why she’s this year’s It actress (and if you just can’t get enough of her, you’re in luck; she’s got four more films scheduled for release this year). She projects Rachel’s emotions so skillfully that she barely has to say a word; you’ll understand exactly what she’s feeling and why.

The Debt offers just the right balance of action and character development, allowing audiences to understand and care for the characters without getting too bogged down in the drama. And the result is a gripping and powerful thriller—one that definitely lives up to its impressive pedigree.

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