In the hazy and exhausting last days of summer, a time notoriously known for begrudging back-to-school antics, one last mad-dash to the beach, and of course, the annual onslaught of some of the worst films of the year, comes the political thriller The Debt, starring actress Helen Mirren.
Given the long-delayed release of this film, my bar for this film was, admittedly, pretty low. However, The Debt offers a surprisingly intriguing, suspenseful, and masterfully acted counter to the otherwise negative reputation of late summer releases.
The plot shifts through the present day and the early 1960’s in which a team of highly trained Israeli agents are tasked with tracking down and detaining a former Nazi doctor, Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) a.k.a. the Surgeon of Birkenau who is accused of performing heinous experiments during the Holocaust. The agents are to return him to Israel to stand trial.
The film opens with Mirren’s character Rachel Singer, at a reception for her daughter’s new book which tells the story of how her mother, father (played in the present day by Tom Wilkinson, and by Marton Csokas in the flashbacks), and agent, David (played by Ciarán Hinds in the present, Sam Worthington in the past) took down the notorious Surgeon of Birkenau.
As the film opens up with a few uneasy exchanges between Mirren and Wilkinson about the events that took place, it’s clear that the story depicted in the media is hiding a nasty bit of truth that’s been eating up the central characters all these years. Most of the film takes place in the past, a clever and effective narrative technique that gives the audience an unaltered and suspenseful look as to what really happened during the mission.
Perhaps the driving force of the film is the performances from its leads. Per usual, Mirren provides a stellar performance as the ex-Israel agent haunted by her past and willing to do anything to keep it hidden.
Both Wilkenson and Hinds offer fine, albeit stunted performances as the elder versions of Worthington and Csokas’s characters.
While their short time onscreen is punctuated by their keen acting skills, their characters only serve to heighten Mirren’s sense of paranoia and desperation to keep her secret covered.
Jessica Chastain, who stars as the young Rachel in the flashbacks also gives a performance worthy of Mirren’s characters namesake. Chastain, as well as Worthington and Csokas provide for some of the film’s most tantalizing and ranging character interactions, as well as the narrative’s brief, and somewhat pointless romantic story arch.
Though slow at times, overall the film succeeds at establishing itself as an intriguing, thoughtful, and somewhat suspenseful espionage thriller. Furthermore, as a late-summer release, The Debt may be your single solace at the theaters in pool of otherwise forgettable films.
Overall Grade: B-
The Debt is now playing in theaters everywhere, click here for theaters and showtimes.