SYNOPSIS: Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington star in "The Debt", the powerful story of Rachel Singer, a former Mossad agent who endeavored to capture and bring to trial a notorious Nazi war criminal - the Surgeon of Birkenau - in a secret Israeli mission that ended with his death on the streets of East Berlin. Now 30 years later, a man claiming to be the doctor has surfaced and Rachel must go back to Eastern Europe to uncover the truth. 


It’s rare for a spy movie to miss the theatrical run here and it’s even rarer when the cast includes celebrated actors such as Academy Award winner Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds and Sam ‘Avatar’ Worthington. “The Debt” which is directed by a certain John Madden who gave the world “Shakespeare In Love” is a 2010 remake of a little-known Israeli movie about three Mossad agents being tasked to bring an Nazi war criminal back to Israel for trial from Berlin. But things always never go as planned, aren’t they? “The Debt” is an account of what truly happens after almost 30 years later.

Of the trio, agent Rachel Singer (Mirren) is helmed a heroine in her country, for killing the notorious criminal, Dieter Vogel after he tries to escape from the agents’ clutches. The movie opens in 1997 where we see Singer being celebrated by friends and media when her daughter wrote a book on her mother’s daring exploit. From there, the movie jumps to and fro 1997 to 1966, a sensitive period where East and West Berlin still exists.

Either its budgetary concern (it’s costly to de-age and aged actors in postproduction) or a more sensible decision by the filmmakers, two sets of actors played agent Singer, David and Stephan respectively. The younger Rachel is played by newcomer Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life), Sam Worthington is David and Marton Csokas as the ambitious Stephan. Given the circumstances and plot requirement, both Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain stood out from the rest of the other male actors. Mirren is compelling as usual for those who are familiar with her movie career but it’s Chastain who shines as the younger Rachel Singer with a performance that heaves much of a fresh breath as compared to the current crop of actresses working in Hollywood today.

A far departure from other espionage theme movies such as Spielberg’s ensemble flick, “Munich” and Tony Scott’s flashy “Spy Game”, Madden opted an old-fashioned approach to his movie and “The Debt” works more like a character and morale study on the characters involved. Lacking any major action sequences or firepower (with the exception of a tense transporting sequence), much of the tension derived heavily from the captive, Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) who is so psychologically manipulative that a simple conversation with the man might result in dire consequences. Add to it a triangular romance between the two men and one woman, the trio who are cropped up in a rundown apartment for most of the movie developed romantic rivalry that slows down the flick considerably.

Despite some flaws with the script (which movie doesn’t anyway?), whose first draft is written by frequent collaborators Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman (“X-Men:First Class), “The Debt” remains a mature, well-made crime drama. It will definitely have you guessing the actual truth right to the end. 


More for die-hard movie fans than a must-listen commentary track, the Feature Commentary with Director John Madden and Producer Kris Thykier is filled with production details but like the movie, it gets a bit slow at times. A Look Inside The Debt is a brief promo reel that has the director and cast members talk about their roles and plotting. Same goes for The Berlin Affair, another 3 minutes segment.


Offering very little excitement except for a few dramatic sequences, dialogue on the whole is clear while visual transfer is free of noticeable grains.



Review by Linus Tee