The Debt (2010)

4/5

USA/UK/Hungary; John Madden

 

Parental Guidance – Violence; Disturbing Images; Brief Language

 

 

In 1965, a trio of young ambitious Mossad agents (Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington) crosses into East Berlin in their quest for an infamous Nazi war criminal, known as the Surgeon of Birkenau. They battle their fears and, against all odds, fulfill admirably their mission, returning to their country as national heroes. But thirty years later, the tragic and unexpected suicide of one of them forces the two survivors to face what really happened at that time, and how they fooled their country for so many years.

 

For a thriller and a spy yarn, The Debt is remarkably nebulous, frightening and unfathomable. In the beginning, the script seems to abound in useless, tiresome technical details about the progress of the top secret operation, but this vein is rapidly abandoned and the ensemble veers towards a less mechanical, soulless, thrill-seeking approach to its provocative and disturbing material. What could have been just another revenge thriller becomes a rich, devastating and astringent analysis of a group’s dynamics under extraordinary pressure.

 

The first half of The Debt is a baffling, stifling and bruising account of a mission-gone-awry, but also much more than that. Each frame is heavy with mute, seething terrors; a claustrophobic sense of tension and then, gradually more, of emotional panic seeps from the screen. It is a superb visceral experience, a taut, yet throbbing, humane and vulnerable espionage drama, an antipode to the glamor and blazing wit of a James Bond. The leading trio delivers exceptional performances, which anchor the story and lend it instant human credibility and poignancy.

 

Unfortunately, the follow-up might be a disappointment, for there is nothing there to match the jolt of the first act. Helen Mirren as the retired Mossad agent acquits herself decently, but the taut brilliance gives way to a more formulaic thriller – gripping, but rather ordinary. The actions sequences are uniformly good.

At its best, The Debt is a hypnotic, visceral and tense character study that will haunt long after the end credits roll. Even when it descends into more generic territory, it is still a worthwhile sit.

 

 

The debt poster 1

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