Film review | The Debt – Payback for a Nazi doctor. But should Mossad’s uneasy trio take the credit?

The Debt - Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington & Marton Csokas

Former Mossad agents Rachel, Stefan and David are heroes in Israel for their roles in bringing down a Nazi war criminal, but was their long-ago mission really as clear-cut and triumphant as the history books relate?

Based on the 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov, John Madden’s intriguing psychological thriller The Debt unfolds in two time frames: 1997, when the trio are played by Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds, and 1965, when their youthful selves (Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington) undertake a dangerous undercover mission in Cold War East Berlin to track down and kidnap Nazi doctor Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), the so-called ‘Surgeon of Birkenau’.

At first, the fidgety back-and-forth storytelling slows the film down, but when the agents seize their prey the narrative steadies and a gripping battle of wits unfolds as the wily captive tries to exploit his captors’ weak spots. There’s one twist too many when the film returns to 1997, but the performances hold up throughout, with Chastain doing a particularly sterling job as the younger Mirren, although it’s a little disconcerting that when Worthington’s character reappears as Hinds he seems to have grown half a foot taller during the intervening decades.

On general release from 30th September 2011.


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