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Helen Mirren
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Matthew Vaughn.
Running Time
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The Debt
It's Munich meets Rashomon

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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…

The Debt
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.

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Average user rating for The Debt
Empire Star Rating

Tense and Evocative

Here's one for you if you like spy movies that are edgy and dark instead of flashy and laden with gimmicks. Yes, The Debt has problems. The older versions of the three principal characters just don't resemble their younger "selves" sufficiently to be convincing, but that is a minor niggle. We know that they are being played by two separate groups of actors, but for the purposes of the story we can accept them as being one and the same. A much bigger flaw with this movie is the e... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by magiclips at 07:38, 09 December 2012 | Report This Post

Good movie that could have been great. Strong performances all around, particularly from the younger set of actors. Lost focus at times but was an entertaining and sometimes thought provoking watch. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Turd Ferguson at 14:36, 09 January 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Thoughtful and tense

You know what? I actually thought (apart from the accent) Sam Worthington was really good it in. His emotional turmoil of David, I thought, was one of the high points. Of course all the other cast were great (especially Martin Csokas), but always expected them to be. I just felt I had to defend Worthington as due to his role in Avatar, I feel he is rather unfairly bashed. Anyway, good film but I felt the ending was a misstep and slightly ruined what had gone before. 3/5/5 ... More

Posted by Timon at 10:00, 10 October 2011 | Report This Post

Thoughtful and tense

Well, I have to say it was better the Tinker Taylor. Had the same period atmosphere and high class acting, but they did more with it. Maybe a slightly unsatisfying ending but plenty else to enjoy and admire. Thought Jesper Christensen was very good indeed and the scenes with him tied up were brilliant bits of drama and acting. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bretty at 00:31, 07 October 2011 | Report This Post

RE: The Debt

Beautiful evocation of the period. Tense scenarios. Twists that shock. Characters that engage. Not an unqualified success - the business in 1997 is less convincing. But there is much more good than bad. For my money, this is the film that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy promised to be but wasn't. Read my review ink]. Comments welcome. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by The Shadows at 20:23, 05 October 2011 | Report This Post

Worthington was surprisingly good in this I would say it is the best I have seen him act. Good film not brilliant though but thought provoking and the nazi war criminal that they have to kidnap is vile, as in a decent bad guy. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Bighousewill at 14:55, 02 October 2011 | Report This Post

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