The Debt (15)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner28/09/2011

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 114 mins

The Debt has strong performances and a handful of good moments but it's ultimately let down by some poor pacing, an increasingly dull second half and a baffling spot of miscasting.

What's it all about?
Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), The Debt is based on a 2007 Israeli thriller (Ha-Hov, Israeli thriller fans) and stars Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas as Rachel, David and Stefan, three Mossad agents charged with hunting down Nazi killer Dr Vogel (Jesper Christensen), the former 'Surgeon of Birkenau', in East Berlin in 1965. While the initial kidnap is successful, the plan goes horribly wrong after they imprison Vogel in their flat prior to smuggling him out of the country and things are further complicated by romantic difficulties between the three agents.

32 years later, a haunted Rachel, David and Stefan (now Helen Mirren, Ciaran Hinds and Tom Wilkinson) are forced to confront the truth, as it transpires that the official version of their story isn't what really happened.

The Good
The performances are mostly excellent: rising star Jessica Chastain is the stand-out and gets the film's two best scenes, one of which involves her subduing a Nazi with her thighs. There's also strong support from Mirren, Wilkinson and Csokas, though Hinds is under-used and Worthington is as dull and blank faced as ever, though he is, admittedly, slightly less wooden here than he has been elsewhere.

The aforementioned Nazi-slash-thighs moment aside (which makes the film sound like much more fun than it actually is), The Debt does have one excellent, cleverly written and genuinely surprising moment that makes you sit up in your seat. The problem is that this occurs around halfway through and is essentially the peak of the film, after which it's all downhill.

The Bad
The main problem is the pace of the film, which slows to a crawl after the key plot twist, dragged down by increasingly dull dialogue and a lack of action (though it perks up for a decent 90s-set finale).

Similarly, there's no chemistry between any of the actors so it's impossible to care about the romantic element, particularly as it doesn't seem to have impacted on the 90s half of the story in any significant way.

The film is further undermined by a distracting bit of miscasting, in that Hinds is a dead ringer for Csokas but is actually cast as the older Worthington, while Wilkinson isn't right for either actor.

Worth seeing?
Despite a small handful of good moments, The Debt is ultimately something of a disappointment thanks to a dull script, poor pacing and some dodgy casting. Watch Munich again instead.

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Content updated: 19/08/2018 12:54

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