The Debt: Melodramatic Espionage Thriller
Ciarán HindsHelen Mirren...
Mossad secret agents Rachel (Chastain/Mirren), Stephan
(Csokas/Wilkinson) and David (Worthington/Hinds), are on a mission in Germany
to kidnap Dieter Vogel (Christensen), a Nazi war criminal, and bring him to
Israel where he can be tried for his crimes. They successfully kidnap him but
bungle the smuggle-him-out-of-Germany-into-Israel part, after which he escapes.
In an attempt to save face, they decide to say that they killed him and
disposed of the body. Consequently, they return to Israel where they live as
heroes for the next thirty years until they discover that a man claiming to be
Vogel has turned up in a mental hospital in Ukraine where he will be meeting
with a journalist within the week.
The film tells stories from two different eras. The actual mission to
kidnap Vogel takes place in the 60s, while his re-emergence in their lives
happens thirty years later, in the 90s. The film weaves back and forth between
the two storylines with different actors playing the agents in each thread due
to the 30-year gap between them. While this does make sense theoretically, the
actors’ lack of resemblance to each other did result in some confusion;
especially with the two male agents.
Crammed with dodgy German accents and even dodgier English ones, The Debt loses some steam due to its
long running time. On the plus side, though, Chastain and Mirren as the
young and old Rachel respectively do a great job with their character;
especially when compared to their co-stars. While the film in general is rather
melodramatic, Chastain and Mirren manage to temper the emotions a bit and
inject a bit of logic into the proceedings. Rachel’s character is the one that
most personifies the struggle the agents face between enjoying their
hero status and feeling guilty about its fabrication.
The Debt’s biggest flaw is that
its lack of depth. First and foremost, the majority of the secret agents’ plans
seem to rely on sheer luck; hardly the work of Mossad agents. In addition, the
film’s villain, Vogel, is completely two-dimensional. He’s portrayed as an
evil, conniving and slippery character who repeatedly derides the Jews for not
standing up to their Nazi captors, claiming that they deserved to be butchered
and gassed for their weakness. While these views are hardly surprising for a
Nazi, we don’t get to see any other side of him. He isn’t even portrayed as
someone brainwashed by Nazi ideology; he has no other motive besides a love of
It’s this very simplistic approach to villainy that makes it so hard to
see why the three agents want him so badly and why it would be so embarrassing
for them, and for Israel as a whole, if he were to escape.
All in all, The Debt isn’t
very balanced. Some parts are very interesting to watch, namely whenever
Chastain and Mirren are on screen, which is thankfully frequently, while some make
no sense whatsoever and feel like a blatant cop-out.