Movie Review: The Debt

By Russell Baillie

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Helen Mirren in The Debt. Photo / Supplied
Helen Mirren in The Debt. Photo / Supplied

The Debt is the movie with Dame Helen Mirren as the spy coming out of retirement for one last mission. It's not to be confused with last year's Red, where she had pretty much the the same job description. But that one was largely for laughs.

The Debt is a much more serious affair - a Holocaust-meets-Cold-War drama of Nazi hunting. It also contemplates matters of revenge, justice, conscience, and how legend can part company with truth, especially in the deceptive and deceitful world of spies.

It does all that in a film that doesn't lack for suspense or some skillful storytelling. But it's also burdened with a love triangle, some uneven performances (Worthington's fluctuating accent suggests the Australian misheard when asked if he could sound "more Austrian") and an ending which wants to be climactic but comes off contrived and silly.

The film is a remake of a little-seen 2007 Israeli thriller HaHov about three young untested Mossad agents charged in 1965 with kidnapping a Josef Mengele-like doctor known as "the Surgeon of Birkenau" for his gruesome concentration camp experiments.

He is now Dr Vogel, working as a gynaecologist in East Berlin, his exam room offering a couple of squeamishly tense scenes as agent Rachel Singer (Chastain) poses as a patient.

The film fluidly blends those flashbacks behind the Iron Curtain with a present 1997 Tel Aviv. There, a book about the Vogel mission, saying how he was shot and killed by the wounded Singer (played by Mirren in 97), has been written by her daughter. Her now ex-husband Stefan (Wilkinson and Csokas) was also part of the squad and has risen in the ranks of Israeli intelligence.

Only the third member of the team, David (Hinds taking over from Worthington) is still troubled by the past, especially with a possibility the Surgeon of Birkenau is still alive. So Rachel, her face still scarred by Vogel's getaway bid, must find it within herself to break out the cloak and dagger one last time.

By then, however, this engaging thriller has started to lose its grip. And The Debt's urge for a big payoff just makes us lose interest.

Stars: 3.5/5
Cast: Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds, Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas
Director: John Madden Rating: R16 (violence and offensive language) Running time: 112 mins
Verdict: Solid spy thriller which starts better than it finishes

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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