The Debt is intriguing and has a stellar cast, but I’m hesitant to recommend it – except to those who desperately crave a spy-thriller over the long Labor Day weekend. If you do go, keep your expectations in check and enjoy it for the fine acting as opposed to any real depth of character or story development.

The movie centers around a trio of Israeli intelligence agents who are hailed as heroes after venturing into East Berlin in the 1960s to capture a Nazi war criminal known as the evil Surgeon of Birkenau. Thirty years after their much-celebrated feat, the death of one of the agents forces the other two, now retired from the spy biz, to re-examine the mission and how it ultimately unfolded.

The story shifts between 1997 and 1966/67 and is told primarily through the eyes of Rachel, played by Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain, who both deliver excellent performances. Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington are eminently watchable as the young versions of Rachel’s colleagues, Stefan and David. And Tom Wilkinson is solid as the older version of Stefan. The only casting flaw is Ciarán Hinds as the older David. Let’s just say, David didn’t age so well.

If it all sounds a bit confusing with the time shifts and the older/younger versions of the key characters, that’s because it sort of is, especially at the beginning of the movie. It takes a few minutes to get your bearings, but eventually it does settle into a rhythm that is rife with tension and suspense and at times, violence.

There is a romantic subplot involving a love triangle among Rachel, Stefan and David. But it tends to cloud the main story rather than enhance it.

The Debt is adapted from the 2007 Israeli film, Ha-Hov [The Debt] and I’m somewhat tempted to watch the original to see how it compares. But I’m not sure it’s worth my time. Unless there’s another hurricane and I can watch it on Netflix.

4 thoughts on “The Debt”
  1. Mainstream Chick’s review is spot on for The Debt…especially the comment about David not aging well. The movie was ok…not great. I wouldn’t tell someone to rush out and see it on opening weekend. But, if you are looking for something to do, it isn’t bad.

  2. The original Ha-Hov, in Hebrew with subtitles, is currently showing on Comcast/Infinity On Demand > Free Movies.

  3. Dear Miss Mainstream: Just saw the original Israeli Ha-Hov. A good, extremely well acted, small film. Though the premise is a little shaky and weakens sympathy for the antagonist (living two-three decades with, and profiting from a lie), this is set-up at the top of the film and quickly fades into the background. I never did see the new, English version, primarily because of the coming attractions and Helen Mirren’s gimourous in your face on her face scar, which I took as a sign of less than subtle filmmaking to come. I’m pleased to report that the Israeli version boasts a much more realistic and barely noticed scar (after first seen). I appreciate their confidence in my power of discernment.

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