Now Showing on Cable: “The Debt”

Premiering this weekend on Cinemax was last year’s espionage thriller, “The Debt”.

Starring Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds, Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain, “The Debt” is the story of three Mossad agents dealing with the consequences of a key operation from their younger days. A portion of the narrative set in current day is intercut with flashbacks of a mission the trio undertook in East Germany in the mid 1960s.

The three were charged with getting their hands on a Nazi doctor, “The Surgeon of Birkenau”, who performed biological experiments on humans during WWII and returning him to Israel for trial.

Things did not go as planned.

Chastain and Mirren play the same Mossad operative, Rachel, at different points in her life. Chastain portrays her during the critical operation, while Mirren plays her 30 years after retiring from the agency. Chastain’s Rachel is dedicated, courageous, idealistic. She’s well-trained in martial arts, and willing to risk her own life for the sake of their mission. Mirren’s Rachel is older, weary. She’s lived with the consequences of that particular assignment for at least 30 years, and it has worn on her.

The mission, which Rachel undertook with two other operatives, David and Stefan, was to infiltrate East Germany and capture a man named Dieter Vogel – “The Surgeon of Birkenau”. During World War II, Vogel (Jesper Christensen) conducted brutal biological experiments on human subjects. Now the Israelis wish him captured and brought to Israel for trial. Vogel is currently working as a gynecologist… in order to approach him, Rachel poses as a patient and undergoes his examinations. She is exposed to him as a person can be as they do the espionage dance with each other. She takes pictures to confirm his identity, he asks probing questions out of his own paranoia, to reassure himself of his own safety.

It’s a fascinating cat and mouse game, but it gets even more intense once Vogel is captured. When plan A fails and the three operatives are unable to sneak Vogel from the country as planned, they’re forced to keep him captive in their safe house until they can come up with plan B. It’s there that Vogel begins to use his forked tongue to seed discord amongst the three operatives… angering them, seeding doubt in them, pitting them against each other.

When the situation spins out of the agents control, they make a decision that they will have to live with the rest of their lives. One that will have profound repercussions for them later.

“The Debt” is an engrossing espionage drama. It’s small-scale, with the focus solidly on people and their actions. The characters are all extremely well crafted and well portrayed. The stakes are high, both personally and professionally, throughout. The non linear narrative works wonderfully, serving to create suspense by showing you the weight of what happened prior to fully revealing what happened. Thus as the viewer is taken through the events, they already have importance, and the tension is thereby heightened. The acting is excellent across the board, as is the directing. There’s just enough style to supplement, but never enough to distract.

It’s a first-rate thriller, and highly recommended… especially seeing as it’s begun its cable rounds now.


37 thoughts on “Now Showing on Cable: “The Debt”

  1. I really liked this one. Even Worthingthon wasn’t as annoying as usual. Jessica Chastain was mesmerizing in the movie. The thing I found odd though was how the older counterparts of two main guys looked so different than they should – in fact if they just switched the actors it would be so much more believable.

      • Really? It didnt bother me that much. I do see what youre saying though, the physical resemblences would have worked better if they switched characters, but I was able to get past it pretty easy…

  2. I went to see this in theaters on a whim, and was shocked at truly good it turned out to be. It’s very well written, directed and acted. An extremely underrated film.

    • Yeah, it’s a good one. Kind of a lower profile flick. Fox Searchlight, I think so a “Studio Indie” if you will. LOL

      Definitely well written and directed and acted though. Absolutely. I found it to be “Gripping” I believe the word is!

  3. Jessica Chastain is the most underrated actress in movies today. Can’t explain why, she made “Help” so enjoyable and she’s great in this. Working with Helen Mirren can’t hurt either. Looking for two of her flix “Lawless” with Tom Hardy and Al Pacino’s “Wilde Salome”. Pacino made possibly the best film on Shakespeare ever in “Looking for Richard” so “Salome” should be terrific. I enjoyed “Debt” but had trouble with Mirren in the part. Kept seeing her as Queen Elizabeth(1 and 2). Didn’t sink the movie though, it still floated.

    • Why didnt you like Mirren here? I thought she was great…

      And it was believeable enough that she was an older Chastain. What didnt you like?

      Lawless might be good, but LaBeouf gives me pause.

      • Gary Oldman will counter Shia nicely. Guess I just wanted more of Jessica in “Debt”. Non-linear can do that to ya! “Wilde Salome” barely saw the light of day in the US. Can’t find anything on it. Oh Well.

  4. This was a good, solid movie & I really like Helen Mirren. I liked the moving in and out of flashbacks. Although parts were predictable, it kept me on the edge of my seat enough to ignore it. Great choice, Dan!

    • Yeah, there you go Kim. Agreed.

      I didnt really find much of it “predictable”, cause I hadn’t spent much time predicting things… I was involved enough in the movie to not try to leap ahead or anything.

      I thought the end was very clever, very cool. And Mirren was good here, definitely.

      I dont choose these so much as I’m at the whim of cable though for what to write up on Mondays. A lot of times, there’s nothing, you know? LOL. Slimmmmm pickens. 😀 This was a treat though

  5. I gave this one an A too, Fogs. I saw it on the big screen, probably on opening weekend, and I wasn’t disappointed. The main draw for me is Mirren but was very impressed w/ Chastain. Yep, first rate thriller is right 😀

    • Very nice, very nice. Always great seeing eye to eye. Especially on a really great flick.

      Chastain was awesome here, no doubt. I thought way better here than in “The Help”, but that’s the one she gets nominated for… go figure. LOL

      • Oh you’re right Fogs, I think if I were given two of her performances to review, I’d nominate Chastain for The Debt. But maybe they just didn’t *submit* that performance?? [shrug] I know there was a bunch of Oscar campaign for The Help, so…

  6. Sounds like a winner, Helen Mirren and espionage, the best! I love her movies, they always seem so subtle and clever and she seems to consistantly pick well developed scripts. I love the detail that they made sure the villan was from East Germany, those poor guys still can’t catch a break. Traffic got you down? Library books overdue? spilled your coffee you say? Blame it all on the East Germans, damn barbarians! 🙂 But at least it shows the writers actually bothered to do some research or open up a history book, sorry ebook, you know?

    • Well, there you go. If you like Helen Mirren, and you like movies that are subtle and clever, this is a winner of a recommendation (Although there’s some times when its not all that subtle LOL)

      And yes, the writers definitely did their due diligence on this, no doubt!

      Check it out if you get a chance its pretty intense!

  7. I loved this flick when I saw in theatres. It was a very brilliant spy thriller. What’s even more cool is that the script was done by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman of “Kick Ass” and X-Men: FIrst Class”

  8. When I saw who was in this film, I just thought, “This is going to be hard to screw up.” I mean they’ve got Mirren, Chastain, Worthington, and Wilkinson, and I love all of them. The leads really made this movie good, I thought. And the scene where the doctor examines Rachel while she knows who he really is…wow, cringe inducing! Great review, agree with you all the way!

    • Excellent, I’m getting a lot of support for giving it such a great review, cool.

      Those WERE cringe inducing scenes. Especially the one where he gives her the shot… you cant help thinking, what is he giving her? So creepy…

      I like how the power roles flip here – when she’s exposed and vulnerable, she’s actually the predator, hunting him… and then when he’s tied up and captive, he’s the one who’s dangerous! LOL I found that clever. 😀

      • I found the whole film a bit clever, to be honest:) A lot better than some of the crap I’ve had to sit through! The Debt was sort of like a breath of fresh air…but I guess anything is fresh compared to Adam Sandler.

  9. Good review Dan. The first 40 minutes definitely riveted the hell out of me, but that all changed once the film went back to present time and things really got out of hand. Really, people were laughing their assess off in the theater that I watched this in but I guess it just proves that no man can stop Helen Mirren.

  10. Great review, very well written.
    I had forgotten about this film. I meant to watch it sooner but I never got around to it. This should be moving up near the next one I will be putting my hands on. Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain are two very good reasons to do so.

  11. I need to watch this movie. When I was in Germany, this Aussie chick in my free tour kept talking about this movie. She said it was “bad ass”. LOL I love revengeful plot lines, so I can’t wait. Thanks for the reminder.

  12. I thought this was a really good film too. Really engaged me like a good thriller should. I hated the distracting casting of the men though. Really confused me a lot.

    • Ok. I hadnt really thought that myself Squasher, but you know? A couple of people have brought it up… so there has to be something to it.

      If the male adult roles were flip flopped, it would have been more acceptable. That’s what I’ve heard, and I can see that. Dont know if youd agree there or not, but…

      Glad you liked it though. I thought it was a sick movie, I really got into it!

  13. Oh sweet, I was wondering about this movie. I keep seeing it at Redbox and the like but never felt compelled to rent it. I’ll be sure to check it out next time I’m in the mood for a good thriller.

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