Film Review: The Debt (2010)

on Friday, September 30, 2011
'The Debt' (UK Release: 30 Sept '11) // Words: Saam Das

The Debt movie quad poster

In 2007, an Israeli film called 'The Debt' was released, a fictional tale of the cover-up of a failed Mossad mission to extract a Nazi war criminal from Germany. Fast-forward to 2011 and an English language remake has emerged. I'm not inherently against remakes - one of my favourite films is 'The Departed', which is based on the Hong Kong 'Infernal Affairs' franchise - but unfortunately, 'The Debt' is an underwhelming thriller.

In 1965, three Mossad agents (Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain and Marton Csokas meet in East Berlin to bring the infamous Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) to justice in their Israeli homeland. Vogel dubbed the "surgeon of Birkenau" for his infamous experiments on Jews in concentration camps has become a gynaecologist. The three agents return to Israel without Vogel, killed while trying to escape.

Thirty years on, the trio (Ciaran Hinds, Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson) are still celebrated as heroes but they carry a dark secret from the mission. A heavy burden that must be repaid. Similarly, I'm carrying the burden of having to review this film. None of us are best pleased.

The first half of 'The Debt' is actually rather engrossing, as the mission unfolds and we remain in the sixties. The acting throughout (yes, that includes Sam Worthington is impressive and Jesper Christensen's quietly menacing character commands constant attention. Unfortunately, after he is dispatched from the screen, my interest began to wane.

The manner in which the cover-up unravels feels unnecessarily forced and much of the final third of the film is difficult to appreciate - particularly disappointing when screenwriters of the calibre of Peter Straughan, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman are involved. Director John Madden struggles to present the modern day narrative strand anywhere near as impressively as he does with the sixties era, although he suffers from the average writing.

Perhaps it is because of the strength of the tension and claustrophobia of Madden's East Berlin scenes that by the end of the film, 'The Debt' feels like a disappointment. So while the film is mostly competent, it's a pity that the high standard is only maintained sporadically.


'The Debt' is on wide release throughout UK cinemas from today. Saam saw 'The Debt' at the Empire Big Screen.

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