The Debt Reviews

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Super Reviewer
November 26, 2013
An impressively shot but ultimately dissatisfying exercise in getting revenge on the Nazis for their crimes against humanity, with this story taking focus on a sadistic doctor (Jesper Christensen) who fled Germany after ruthlessly operating and experimenting on the many Jews that came through the concentration camps. After twenty years, his whereabouts are discovered, and three agents (Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington) are sent to capture him and bring him to justice. The movie constantly shifts between flashbacks of the agents, their mission, and the problems they face, to thirty years later when they are older (played by Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciaran Hinds, respectively) and wear a distinct look of regret on all of their faces for some unknown reason (until the film's middle-section explains why). These shifts in time create an uneasy balance despite the excitement the flashback scenes hold, including what may be the best Sam Worthington performance to date. It is not a terrible movie, but it could have been so much more with better direction and overall better construction of the story and how to tell it. The acting is expectedly top-notch, which gives the story life when in most cases it would start to lose its audience, but by the end of the film, you can not help but be a little disappointed that a fascinating story like this was not better executed.
Super Reviewer
½ March 30, 2012
I was interested in seeing this Hollywood version as I enjoyed the Israeli film that is the source material. As for the source material: The story is an interesting one, involving both personal and national pride, and filmed and paced so matter of factly - almost like a play (which occured to me at one point - you could put this on the boards and it would work quite well), that for long periods you'd swear you were witnessing it firsthand.

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.
Super Reviewer
½ September 24, 2011
Good thriller with a good cast, nice storyline and very well acted. Shows the very scary side of what life must have been like in the old east germany and israel.
Super Reviewer
January 4, 2013
Jessica Chastain and Hellen Mirren are as great as usual in "The Debt", and the film also manages some effective editing and cool storytelling tricks. Unfortunately, the film stumbles constantly, be it due to Sam Worthington's absent-minded performance, the overall drab and lifeless color palette, and a ridiculous ending that in no way fits with the rest of the movie.
Super Reviewer
½ December 25, 2012
What to think of a film whose characters are so inept to carry out an important mission that you end up cheering against them? - a problem that undermines an engaging story full of dramatic potential, before it goes out of control in a frustrating last act.
Super Reviewer
October 10, 2012
The Disappointment. The movie rides extremely low on emotions, thrills, performances & story. Neither enlightening nor entertaining, this run-of-the-mill espionage thriller need not be credited with a detailed review. Not that I'd have done it had it been any interesting. JK
Super Reviewer
September 2, 2010
A gripping, nail-biting and intense edge of your seat thriller that's a must-see. A brilliant, well-crafted and superbly performed movie. A remarkable, sharp, effective and intelligent film from Director, John Madden. This is Madden`s best film in over a decade. One of the best spy thriller`s in years, it has lots of raw power, great characters and sizzling suspense. An excellent movie. The all-star cast is absolutely amazing, they give strong and confident performances and have tense and thrilling development. Helen Mirren is magnificent, she`s at the top of her game. Jesper Christensen is brilliant. Jessica Chastain is remarkable, she`s a radiant and splendid young actress who shows undeniable star power. Martin Csokas is outstanding. Sam Worthington is incredible, another great performance from this wonderful actor. Tom Wilkonson is terrific. A truly explosive and heart-pounding thriller. It`s spectacular and unforgettable.
Tired of Previews
Super Reviewer
September 12, 2011
Directed by John Madden, Marv Films, 2010/2011. Starring Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Tom Wilkinson.

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.

Rating: R
Length: 114 minutes

Review: 6 out of 10
Super Reviewer
May 21, 2011
John Madden has created a taut, suspenseful, smart thriller that featured an excellent cast. The time-shifting story may create some confusing and distracting casting problems, but I feel the film needed to be told in this way. Overall, after a great first-half, the story starts to turn slower, and may lose the interest of some viewers, but ultimately, The Debt is a supremely well-acted film that is smart, suspenseful and moves at a good pace.
Super Reviewer
½ July 2, 2011
This movie failed to hold my interest to finsh it till the end, i dont know why but the story just seemed mundane and slow, which just bored me! Your gripped for so long then it just starts to dwindle to the point that i couldnt finish it! Yes theres supense, twists and excitement but for a spy movie thats got regret and traitors id expect more action which it just lacked!
Super Reviewer
½ March 23, 2012
"The Debt" is a good spy thriller that has enough twists to keep you interested. But not enough action to keep you from being bored. The movie revolves around a trio of retired Mossad secret agents. They've been celebrated for decades after carrying out a mission to track down a Nazi war criminal in Berlin. When news comes out that one of three has commited suicide, the mysteries surrounding their famous mission begin to unravel. Did they really do what they say they did? Moving back and forth between the mission and their retired lives, the movie has a good balance. The performances are good, but two really stand out as great. Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain play Rachel(Mirren the older version obviously) and they are fantastic and completely believeable as the same person. Mirren is one of the best actresses today, and she continues to show it. They really anchor the movie and make their male costars seem almost inferiour. Running almost two hours long the movie drags and slows to a crawl in spots, but always remains intriguing. It's one of those movies you have to finish just to see what happens. Thriller fans will like it, action fans will be left wanting more. I thought it was ok for a watch.
Super Reviewer
February 22, 2012
John Madden's The Debt is an espionage thriller with much to be proud about.While the story plays a part at making this film as intriguing as it is, it is the storytelling that deserves a lot of credit. Basically set in two time periods, and jumping back and forth between them, The Debt manages to dish out much in the way of intense thrills, despite a passive pace.There is some disappointment when it comes to the action because the quantity is on the slim side; however, this picture still succeeds without it. The final half an hour thrives off the suspense and story without much use for all out violence and high octane action.Aside from the strong sense of storytelling, the acting is on the money. Jessica Chastain puts on a great performance for the 1965 scenes, while Helen Mirren delivers in 1997.For 110 minutes, The Debt is able to successfully mesh subplots spanning decades apart. Worth a viewing.
Super Reviewer
April 18, 2011
Good movie! The movie was pretty good and well made. Very good acting by everyone involved in this film.

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.
Super Reviewer
September 1, 2011
I really enjoyed this. Tense, well-acted and the ending surprised me.
Super Reviewer
May 16, 2011
Well made, beautifully acted film without sensationalist trendy special effects, or plots, for miniature attention spans. Riveting, and tense tale. Excellent use of flashing back, and forth, between the two time periods make this very compelling. Helen Mirren is fantastic, as usual.
Super Reviewer
January 9, 2012
An outstanding espionage thriller that tells the story of a case the Mossad handles in 1965 to get a Nazi War Criminal.. Full of action to keep you on the edge of your seat as 3 Mossad agents attempt to get a Nazi Doctor across the East Berlin Boarder, mission fails and we see the life of agents as truth is about to be reviled, 4 Stars.
Super Reviewer
½ May 31, 2011
The Debt has great moments of intensity and suspense, but the weak story and lack of character resemblance in it's time-shifting scenes make this film difficult to enjoy.
Super Reviewer
½ September 14, 2010
As far as spy-thrillers go, "The Debt" is well above average and tackles a cliche subject interestingly; resulting in a very satisfying film. It is well paced and has confidence in it's actors; allowing them room to breathe.

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.
paul o.
Super Reviewer
½ December 11, 2011
Its solid. The story seems a bit cliche until the end. The acting is alright except for Chastain and Mirren (who strangely enough look like each other so well) whose acting grabbed my attention all throughout the film. Sam Worthington kinda brought me down since....well come on its Sam worthington, you can't get much acting from the guy who was in avatar.

Its a popcorn friday night movie with some nice action scenes on the side.
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