The Debt Reviews
The clumsiness of the entire affair is so very natural, which I'm guessing will be removed in the Hollywood version - whether that's a plus or minus remains to be seen.
I'm very intrigued to see how this is handled in Hollywood - for in the right hands you could take the bare bones of the Israeli film and ramp up the tension even further (with better pacing, etc.) **** (on to a review of the 2011 film) ******
Having seen the 2007 source film, I was anxious to see what Hollywood would do with this; and I have to say they stayed pretty close to the source material, both in tone and content, and strayed only to fill out scenes that actually added to the tension (while losing a bit of the claustrophobic feeling of the 3 agents locked inside a dank East Berlin flat).
Helen Mirren is the big name here - and really, she doesn't do much, as so much of the story is a flashback involving her younger self, portrayed well by Jessica Chastain (who seems to be in just about everything in the last two years). Other "oldsters" include Cairan Hinds (who really amounts to nothing more than a cameo) and Tom Wilkinson. Both Mirren and Hinds (in fact just about everyone in the cast) adopt this Jewish accent - which occasionally falls by the wayside.
The story, is a compelling one - Chastain, Sam Worthington (playing the younger Hinds), and Marton Czokas (the young Wilkinson) are sent to East Berlin in 1966, as it is believed that Holocaust butcher Doktor Bernhardt (in a wonderfully studied, and yet kinda creepy performance by Jesper Christenson) is working there as a GYN. The trio hatch an elaborate plan to capture and then transport Bernhardt from Russian controlled East Berlin (before the walls came down), to Israel to stand trial for crimes against humanity (specifically against Jews).
A tight thriller ensues as the trio makes the kidnapping, but then in a rather cool scene that is NOT in the source film, they are unable to make the connection to get their prize out of Russian territory. What ensues is a waiting game that wears on all three, while all the while the Doktor observes and begins to pit one against the other.
As with the source film, if the film would have stopped with the trios' return to Isreal, you would have had a truly fine film - but both films decided to invest in the "debt" part of the calculation, leading in the first film to some almost laughable hide and seek, and in the 2nd to a distasteful bit of 70 and 80 year olds fighting for what's left of their lives. Then, to make matters worse, the Hollywood version throws in a bogus tag ending necessary only as some moral high ground, do the right thing, universe that plays totally false to the rest of the film.
In conclusion, not a bad film - in fact the first half is quite good - but the last bit and some questionable rewriting by the Hollywood factory, make this fair watching, but not a gem.
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Question: When you think of heroines in film - which characters do you think of first? Ripley from Aliens, Clarice from Silence of the Lambs and Sarah Connor from The Terminator are probably the first that jump to mind, right? How about about a 66 year old women? Well, Helen Mirren (and the women who played her character at age 25) just kicked some Nazi-ass in The Debt and it was awesome!
I am not one of the overly feminist gals, trust me. I am all for equality but don't think we are the superior race. However, when I witnessed what the character Helen Mirren (present day) and Jessica Chastain (past) did in The Debt - I felt proud to be a woman.
One of my all time favorite leading ladies is Dame Helen Mirren. She is beautiful, classic, sophisticated and now a down-right bad-ass! I was not expecting it in this movie but got it. Yes, I saw her in Red - which I sort of enjoyed, but her character in that is a wimp compared to one in The Debt.
The story is about three undercover Mossad agents in the mid-60's who are sent to East Berlin; and their mission is to find, capture and bring back a Nazi war criminal living in secret there. The story goes back and forth from 1997 to 1966 with showing the three agents and how what happened in the 1960's haunted them to their present. The agents were played by Helen Mirren/Jessica Chastain, Tom Wilkinson/Marton Csokas and Ciaran Hinds/Sam Worthington.
Let's talk about the younger cast first: Ciaran Hinds did a great job playing the commander of the trio. He proved it well that his character was ambitious and would go far up the ranks. Sam Worthington seemed a little out of his element, acting-wise, particularly with his accent. It sometime sounded like a South-African or his native Australian accent and not the Israeli it should have been. However, there was one moment of vulnerability where he had me believing that his character had something horrible happen in his past that affected him deeply.
However, of the three young agents Jessica Chastain was the best - by far. The level of emotions were portrayed beautifully. Her character had to be in the closest vicinity to the "target". Let me tell you, as a woman, there were three scenes during her mission, that only we could know how her task was truly horrific. Calling it brave would be an understatement. It brought me chills.
Present day characters: Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds were both good. My only complaint is that Sam Worthington and Ciaran Hinds looked nothing alike. Things like that bother me but it was so minor it's not worth harping on.
Anyway, let's now discuss Helen Mirren. She was tough, truthful and willing to fight for what she believes in even though it goes against what she was asked to do. She played it beautifully and I would love to tell you more but I won't. Except to say it was refreshing to witness her conviction. It is hard to go against the grain, especially being a women, but what's harder is allowing a facade to continue even though everyone puts you high on that pedestal because of it. And no matter how tough those aforementioned heroines were, Helen Mirren is now in my top 5 favorites because of this movie.
My favorite part: The end - NO! I am not going to tell you why?
My least favorite part: Sorry to say but it is Sam Worthington - he had a moment but I believe was miscast.
Length: 114 minutes
Review: 6 out of 10
The espionage thriller begins in 1997, as shocking news reaches retired Mossad secret agents Rachel (Helen Mirren) and Stefan (Tom Wilkinson) about their former colleague David (Ciarán Hinds). All three have been venerated for decades by their country because of the mission that they undertook back in 1965, when the trio (portrayed, respectively, by Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington) tracked down Nazi war criminal Vogel (Jesper Christensen) in East Berlin. At great risk, and at considerable personal cost, the team's mission was accomplished - or was it? The suspense builds in and across two different time periods, with startling action and surprising revelations.
Action never takes away from the mood and interesting chemistry between our leads. In fact the performances are the standout here. Worthington, Chastain, and Csokas are all strong, and Mirren, Wilkinson, and Hinds (deserving of more screen time) all do a great job of linking the action taking place in the 1960s to the present. It's worth noting that Ciaran Hinds was a considerably odd choice to portray an older Sam Worthington. Without the slightest resemblance, this lead to some unnecessary confusion early on (since he looks considerably more like the character played by Marton Csokas).
John Madden helms the film with a decidedly and refreshingly subtle approach. The film maintains a sense of grit without much of any manipulative technique. Having everything play out as realistically as possible works for such a restrained, methodical film, stylistically reminiscent of high caliber British television dramas. It's simplistic, ground-level storytelling and it works.
As well as everything comes together in "The Debt," I was left wanting more. Not in terms of it's conclusion, but in terms of it's totality. At under two hours, I think more character development and more scenes with Mirren, Wilkinson, and Hinds would have made for a much more rewarding and impactful experience. The final scenes in particular would have really hit home. They do work, but lack a vital, emotional punch.
That's not to say "The Debt" is a superficial film; it's actually a very meaty thriller chalk full of different themes and shifting perceptions. I just feel that a more fleshed out character dynamic and narrative would have made for a film that worked on a multitude of different levels and not just as a really good spy story.
"The Debt" is a film that was unfortunately overlooked. It does everything it set out to do wonderfully, even if it doesn't reach it's full potential in the process. But it still sticks out as one of the stronger films of 2011; one that comes highly recommended to anyone looking for a more-than-solid thriller.
Its a popcorn friday night movie with some nice action scenes on the side.