Film Review: The Debt

Directed by John Madden
Starring Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington & Tom Wilkinson

1966: Mossad agents Rachel Singer (Chastain), Stephan Gold (Marton Csokas) and David Peretz (Worthington) have a secret mission to capture the Nazi war criminal ‘The Surgeon of Birkenau’ (Jesper Christensen) from Berlin, to stand trial in Israel.
1997: At the launch of their daughter’s book, chronicling their now iconic pasts as Mossad agents, Rachel (Mirren) and Stephan (Wilkinson) are reunited. But new evidence has surfaced in the Ukraine, which could prove that they were not quite the heroes that had been made out to be. As the film cuts between the 1997 and 1966, anyone would be forgiven for thinking that The Debt was based on a true story. It is, however based on a 2007 Israeli film of the same name, Ha-Hov (Israeli for ‘The Debt’).

The Debt is beautifully shot and designed to evoke the two different periods, with 1966 East Berlin coming in just stylistically enough to be effective but believable.The technically flawless execution of the film all rests on a solid and original script, surprisingly from the team who previously brought you Stardust, Kick Ass and X-Men: First class. The pace and energy of this thriller are the only things that betray it as a fiction. The story unfolds in a far slicker way than any true story ever could. That, and the story trailing off into disappointingly convoluted thrillery-ness.

To anyone baffled by the choice to have Sam Worthington attempt an American accent for Avatar, his attempt at a Tel-Aviv accent will be a complete deal breaker. Watching Worthington try to act his way out of a paper bag was just embarrassing. The fantastic screenplay and masterful production fall to pieces as Worthington visibly cringes at his own delivery. This has obviously had an effect on the edit as the 1966 sequences often consist of stern looks and heavy breathing in place of necessary dialogue. There are notably strong performances from Jessica Chastain and Marton Csoka and the love triangle that spans the two time settings is genuinely affecting.

The fact that the cast is a mix of established Hollywood actors playing Israelis and actual Israeli actors playing minor roles is jarring. The contrast makes almost all of the lead performances less believable. The Debt is a great film let down by a lack of authentic Israeli performances, which makes the original, Ha-Hov seem very promising indeed.

3.5/5

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