The Debt is a drama-thriller about a group of Mossad agents who seek out an infamous Nazi surgeon only to revisit the mission 30 years later. Directed by English director John Madden, of Shakespeare in Love fame, the Debt is a remake of a 2007 Israeli movie of the same name. Set in two time periods, three decades apart, the film is anchored by two sets of actors playing the same trio of characters. Marton Csokas, Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain conduct a secret mission 1967. Flash forward to 1997 Tel Aviv and we find the same characters portrayed by Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds and Helen Mirren.
The narrative is semi-linear with long flashback passages that actually help build the drama. After some scenes set in 1997 show the result of the group’s mission the film then flashes to the trio of young Mossad agents in 1967. While maintaining their cover behind the Berlin Wall they seek to detain Dr. Dieter Vogel, a Nazi doctor known as the Surgeon of Birkenau. When the mission doesn’t go quite as planned they are forced to compromise. The film then returns to 1997 and we learn the cost of that compromise and why they must revisit their mission.
The screenplay is sophisticated but the dialogue clunky at times. The action scenes are few but they are taut and convey a real sense of urgency. The characters develop naturally and the cast does a great job of maintaining continuity. In particular Chastain and Worthington give memorable performances that show their characters’ true anguish. Jesper Christensen’s take on the Nazi Dr. Dieter Vogel is subtle and powerful. While Helen Mirren turns in a performance that could garner the venerable actress several awards.
The Debt is a historical thriller though it remains apolitical and avoids generalizations. The film works well as a character study. It focuses on the lives of three people forced to make decisions that will ultimately impact their country, their family and their own well-being.
Bottom line: The Debt is a fine film with superb acting that’s aimed at adult audiences. As a thriller the action is minimal but the drama is tense. But overall it’s a solid dramatic feature.