In Review: The Debt

By Adam Vaughan

In 1966, agents Rachel Singer, David Peretz and Stefan Gold embarked on a super- top secret mission to apprehend a war criminal. They were successful and Rachel, in particular, was hailed as a national hero upon her return to Israel. However, some years later, doubt begins to emerge on just how successful their mission was.

A remake of Israeli film Ha-Hov, this well-executed espionage thriller, spanning thirty years, concerns the mission of three Mossad agents to travel to East Germany and capture a Nazi war criminal. They plan to send him back to Israel to stand trial for his crimes. But when things go wrong, the team decide to cover up the mistake in the interest of their country’s national integrity.

The film flits back and forth between Cold War Berlin where Jessica Chastain (young Rachel Singer), Sam Worthington (Peretz) and Marton Csokas (Gold) plot to take the ‘Surgeon of Birkenau’, Dr. Vogel (Jesper Christensen) hostage, and Tel Aviv in 1997 as Helen Mirren (present day Rachel Singer), Ciarán Hinds and Tom Wilkinson (thirty years on) struggle to cope with the past mistake and devastating revelations in the present.

Director John Madden – a surprising choice perhaps given his previous films Mrs Brown and Shakespeare in Love – choreographs the hostage-taking scenes with assurance. Highlights include Rachel’s (Chastain) appointments with Dr. Vogel, now working as a gynaecologist, which are staged as uneasy and tense altercations of pretence.

The screenplay by Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan (the latter fresh from the success of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) cleverly knits together the two segments, even if the present-day sections aren’t as interesting. And while Mirren will gain most of the attention, Chastain proves she is a leading woman in the making.

Adam has awarded The Debt three Torches of Truth

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