If you know anything about John Madden’s espionage thriller, The Debt, then like a lot of people you probably grumbled over the premise. Another Holocaust movie, really? Again? Well, actually that couldn’t be more wrong. The Debt isn’t the tale of the holocaust, there isn’t an SS uniform in sight. It isn’t the tale of the struggle of the Jews, and those who tried to shield them. Instead, it tells the story of three Mossad agents, sent to Berlin in 1965, to track down and kill a Nazi doctor known as the Surgeon of Birkenau, Dr Vogel. There is obviously supposed to be some parallels with Josef Mengele – who performed horrifying experiments on Jews in concentration camps, often without anaesthetic – and is probably the most famous SS doctor.  Mengele himself, avoided capture until he drowned in 1979 in Buenos Aires. The Debt tells the story a little differently…

From the off, you have to be impressed by the ensemble cast. Dame Helen Mirren’s name carries a lot of weight in show business, and I was very impressed with her performance as per usual. Joining her was Jessica Chastain, who has had a rather undulating career. That being said, she is still young and does has the acting chops, and if she keeps picking roles like this – she is sure to gain a lot of respect within the industry. Mirren and Chastain play the same character, just 32 years a part. Rachel Singer was the young, inexperienced, yet highly trained Massod agent sent to Berlin to join the two other agents in capturing their target and bringing him back to Israel for trial.  And while I really don’t think Chastain and Mirren look at all a like, the performances from both actresses made the whole thing believable. Rachel, of the three agents, had the hardest task. She was to go to the Surgeon, now a gynaecologist under an assumed name, and confirm his identity. Once this was done, they would strike and smuggle him out of Germany and back to Israel. Given he is a gynaecologist, that involved several, unnerving trips to see him with fertility problems.

If you’re female, you will know that any trip to the gynaecologist is unnerving. You’re at your most vulnerable, and its not a pleasant experience. Couple that with knowing the guy whose poking around in your special place is a man who has committed unspeakable atrocities – and he doesn’t want to get caught and keeps asking his patient questions… well, saying Rachel was on edge would be an understatement.  Jesper Christensen did a really good job playing Vogel also. He had just enough bedside manner and charisma to make him seem both normal and sinister at the same time. Knowing who he was and what he had done, and seeing the veil he was portraying only excelled his latter performances when he revealed his true colours.

But The Debt isn’t just about the mission, and what happened on the mission. Ultimately it is about the mistakes we make when we are young, that we still come to regret and hold on to years later. Kieran Hinds (who seems to be in everything at the moment) and Sam Worthington played David, the second of the Massod agents, and the one with clearly the most intent to see the mission through. When things go wrong and the group are forced to lie about the Surgeons fate, this leads to a lie that haunts all three of them for three decades. None more so than David, who lost his whole family in the gas chambers, and at one point says all he wants in life is for the world to know and accept what really happened. And that can only happen with a trial. The regret that David feels is ultimately intertwined with his love for Rachel, and the relationship they never got to have.

In the end, the problem is clear. It is not that they lied about what happened to the Surgeon, it was that they were still doing it thirty years later. I don’t want to ruin the film if you haven’t seen it, but eventually a crisis in conscience occurs, and culminates in Rachel meeting the Surgeon one last time, all those years later. If you didn’t already know, Helen Mirren is bad ass and she proves it here once again. And somehow I found her fight scenes much more exciting than the Bourne-esque Chastain fights scenes from earlier in the film. Maybe its just the fact that there is such a good essence of time in the film, and that Madden has managed to precisely nail the thirty year crescendo on the head until it exploded. I find similar films often have a good twisting build up, but the finale is never as good as the journey. For me, The Debt waited just long enough to build the tension and for us to watched on nervously as we saw what became of Rachel and Vogel’s fate all those years later.

For the most part, the only bad things people have to say about The Debt is:
a) Why do none of the young/old versions of each other look alike? They do have a point.
b) And why is this movie called The Debt?

Seriously, who do they owe something to? If you really think about it, that is such a lousy name. Had the film just been about the mission, I’d have said that the debt was what the Mossad agents were repaying Vogel – by bringing him to justice. On the other hand you could have a bear sized stretch and say it was a debt they owed to society in telling the truth.

Overall, a good solid performance from all those involved. The plot was a bit weak at times, but what it lacked in the writing it made up for in the direction. The Debt is a holocaust movie with a different twist, yet without sacrificing the gravity behind the situation. I recommended watch. Check out the trailer below.

8/10

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