Berlin, 1965. A trio of young Mossad agents is assigned to track down a wanted Nazi war criminal (Jesper Christensen). But while the mission seemingly ends in triumph with the three heroes killing their target, the truth is something quite different. And in 1997, the past comes back to haunt them…
After spending more than a year on the shelf thanks to the wrangling over the future of Miramax, John Madden’s latest film arrives at the very tail-end of a summer filled with battling robots, invading aliens and revolutionary apes, and it offers something quite different. For most of the running time, this is a thoughtful, emotional and sharply acted thriller aimed squarely at those who like some cogitation in their cinema.
While the plot, which skips between 1965 and 1997 as it follows the story of three Israeli agents (Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington in the past, Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds in the ‘present’), is a fairly straightforward tale of revenge, duty, lies and the impact they can have on our lives, it’s really the performances that carry this one. Almost everyone does solid work, with the clear highlight being the combination of rising star Chastain and accomplished stalwart Mirren as Rachel Singer, a woman we meet on her first mission and also as a troubled veteran looking back at the job that left her forever scarred. More than rising to the challenge, Chastain pulses with strength and vulnerability, while Mirren is just as good as the haunted later Rachel. There’s also fine work from Csokas/Wilkinson and Hinds. If there’s a weak link among the acting ensemble it’s Worthington — while he can handle David’s burning desire for duty, his accent is often atrocious, and he doesn’t quite have the chops to stand alongside the others.
The film itself is effective, letting the script (by Matthew Vaughn, who originally planned to direct, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan) support the acting and also offering up a portrait of a Nazi (Casino Royale’s Jesper Christensen) who is by turns chilling and human. The biggest downside, however, is that the ’90s-set scenes never feel quite as affecting as those in the ’60s. And a badly misjudged finale, which swaps the intelligent, logical, necessary action of earlier scenes for a silly, Bourne-style confrontation, means it stumbles at the last hurdle. But even though it threatens to drag everything else down with it, the quality of what comes before is more than enough to make the experience a worthwhile one.
A smart, tense, well-acted thriller undercut by a disappointing finale and an occasional lack of focus. But at least this offers something for those looking for a film with more on its mind than simple set-pieces.