PG Cooper: The Debt Review

Posted: September 5, 2011 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews
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Release date: August 31st, 2011

Running time: 114 Minutes

Written by: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman, and Peter Straughan

Based on: The screenplay Ha-Hov by Assaf Bernstein and Ido Rosenblum

Directed by: John Madden

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Marton Csokas, Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds, and Jesper Christensen

Going into The Debt, I expected a solid thriller. The trailer was intriguing, it come from writers who I had a good track record with, I liked the cast, and the film had received some strong reviews. What I didn’t expect was that The Debt would be one of the better movies I’ve seen this year.

The film revolves around three former Mossad agents, Rachel (Helen Mirren), Stefan (Ciarán Hinds), and David (Tom Wilkinson). The three are famous for an assignment they had in the 60’s where they went into East Berlin where they captured and killed a famous Nazi doctor (Jesper Christensen). The film cuts between the trio in Berlin (where Rachel is played by Jessica Chastain, and Stefan and David by Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington, respectively) and the trio in 1997 where they are played by the older actors.

Most of the time is spent with the younger actors. All do a great job, with Chastain and Worthington really shining. Chastain does a good job playing a young and vulnerable girl who winds up being psychologically toyed with by the Nazi doctor. She also does a good job showing the inner turmoil Rachel goes through. Sam Worthington plays a driven and intense soldier, determined to see justice done. Worthington does an excellent job with the role and shows the strain it has on him very effectively.

All of the older actors do a fantastic job portraying the negative effects their assignment had on them. You get a deep sense that these people have seen and done things that really changed them forever. Finally, we have Jesper Christensen as the Nazi doctor. His character was amazing, and Christensen plays him to perfection. He’s creepy and dangerous, but equally smart and treacherous. All in all, it’s a great cast and I might even say some performances are awards worthy.

Director John Madden (not that John Madden) brings a lot of atmosphere and tone to the film. The film is tense throughout, especially a portion where the three are trapped in an apartment for weeks with the Nazi. There’s also a lot of clever set pieces. Some are more straight forward action scenes and others are more quiet stealth scenes. The film is aided by some tight editing and good cinematography. It’s elements like this that make The Debt a great spy film.

But The Debt isn’t content to settle with just being a good spy thriller, the film has something to say. The film deals with an interesting theme, how sometimes doing what is right is compromised for the sake of convenience. Earlier this year The Conspirator dealt with a similar theme, but The Debt handles this in a far better and more subtle way. The film also deals with some smaller and more personal themes such as dealing with guilt. This is what elevates The Debt to new levels.

If I have one problem with The Debt, it’s the ending. Throughout the film, nothing happened that I didn’t like. But I thought the ending felt a little off. It’s not a horrible end, but I don’t feel like it lived up to the rest of the film. Now this might change on further viewings. There are films like The Social Network where I didn’t like the ending on first viewing, but came around to it later on.

Great performances, great direction, an intelligent script with some good twists, and material that takes itself seriously. The slow pace may turn some people off, but I found The Debt a riveting and intense thriller that I hope won’t be forgotten. One of my favourites of this year.

Rating: A

  1. I didn’t like it as much you did and I thought Sam Worthington struggled to play what was probably a well written character on the page…but great review. I really liked the paragraph about John Madden’s direction. I agree with most of it and it was perfectly articulated.

    And I also thought the best part about the film was Jesper Christensen.

  2. CMrok93 says:

    Good Review PG! Sports an intriguing premise and uniformly strong performances, but its second act is mediocre and its third act even worse, and it can’t help but pale in comparison to Munich.

  3. Ok GOOD. A good review, finally.

    I had been hearing such a buzz about this one, and then the reviews I had been seeing were all lukewarm at best. So its good that it registered with someone, I had really high hopes for it!!

  4. ianthecool says:

    It seems like this is Mirren’s serious turn to the character she played in RED. It would be interesting to see the impact that spy life could have on someone. I should try to watch this.

  5. Great review too, I loved pretty much everything about this. I been wanting to see this since I saw the trailer last year, I’m a little upset that I had to wait this long but so satisfied at what they created. I hope one day I can see the original.

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