The Debt (2011)

Finally! A film that shows what jerks Nazis are…

Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) is a former Mossad intelligence agent forced to relive her 1965 pursuit of a notorious Nazi war criminal when the bold and dangerous fugitive is thought to have reemerged 30 years later in the Ukraine.

A time-spanning thriller may not seem like the most engaging way to tell this premise, and I can already bet you were already thinking; “been there, seen that”, but I can assure you it’s not as bad as it may seem, it’s kind of cool.

Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) uses the non-linear plot structure to actually add a lot more tension to this film because he somehow finds a way to slow everything down, having our minds wander, and just contemplate what some of the biggest mysteries of this story are. You see how all of these characters are in the future, after the mission, and you wonder just exactly why, but Madden keeps you glued to the screen with the details coming out of the story slowly but surely.

The script itself is OK with some nice plot points here and there, but it was a little distracting for me at some points. I think if they just stuck with a normal approach to this film, I would have been a lot more surprised when things happened, and not so bummed out when my predictions were correct. I’m not going to lie, I did like Madden’s approach to this film, I just feel like I knew how this was all going to play out considering we see the fates of these agents early on and it doesn’t really give us any tension into what exactly is going to happen next.

There’s also a moment in this film when a love triangle starts to occur, which to me, seemed pretty dumb considering these damn people have a mission to do, that could practically threaten their lives and the least their worried about is whether or not they get some sexy time in. If I was on as an important mission as these people brought up every time they could, I know the last thing on my mind would be getting my D wet, but hey that’s just me.

The acting from this cast really is stellar and helped me out with a lot of this film. Helen Mirren is awesome as older Rachel, and proves she can do no wrong; Jessica Chastain is very gritty, mature, and ruthless as younger Rachel who is total live-wire and makes the best out of all of her scenes with everybody on screen; Tom Wilkinson is good as older Stefan, but barely in it as well; Jesper Christensen is very menacing as Doktor Bernhardt, who practically takes advantage of the whole mission, and eventually, everyone around him; and Marton Csokas is also very good as young Stefan. The weakest link of the whole cast was probably Sam Worthington as David, who is just one-note and doesn’t really show off any emotions until he’s later played by a great character actor, Ciarán Hinds, and is kind of forgotten about in a way.

However, my real problem with this film is the insanely laughable ending which was about 15 minutes of just pure Helen Mirren showing how unstoppable she is, and even though this may seem like an awesome thing, I can assure you it’s not at all. The film had so much momentum going for it that the way it ends almost feels forced and conventional, as if Madden needed a way to end the film but didn’t have any cool ideas so he went with the dumb and predictable way.

Consensus: The Debt features good performances from the cast, an inspired direction, and a real big air of mystery and suspense; but has too many problems with not too many surprises, and just ending up being another conventional thriller that may seem cool at first, but ends up being a tad disappointing.



  1. I felt just the opposite of your feelings about the film. The first half almost put me to sleep . .. it was so predictable, trite and mundane. When the twist hit I perked up.

    By the way, how different did Jessica Chastain look and act when compared to her role in The Help? Amazing. She showed me something.

    • She’s incredibly talented in everything it seems like she does, and here is no different but I didn’t think the film itself was that bad. But I guess it’s not for everyone.

  2. Wait, the Nazi is a bad guy?…

    I think I liked this one a bit more than you did. Mirren, Chastain and Christensen were wonderful, and I agree that Worthington’s role was the least developed (although presumably this is supposed to make him mysterious, I guess.)

    I didn’t mind the ending as much. The last few minutes had a similar feeling as the first action scene, which got me to wondering about philosophy and such, and the meaning of truth.

    Great Review!

  3. I rather liked most of the film., but the ending just seemed to drag on. And the 1960’s story was more interesting than the one set in the 1997. Great review.

  4. Nice review, I agree with your view on the ending. I wish movies would put as much into the ending as the do the build up to get there. I found most of the movie pretty compelling. I really liked Jessica Chastain, she was the movie for me. This would be a good night out with allot of talking about it over drinks type movie.

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