The Debt has languished on the dusty shelves of Miramax for more than a year following the studio’s dissolution. While it’s nice to see the familiar logo back on the screen for possibly the last time, it unfortunately means that the studio goes out with more of a whimper than a bang as while it’s a competent and largely well-acted thriller, it does nothing to distinguish itself.
In 1965, a trio of Mossad operatives (Jessica Chastain, Martin Csokas and Sam Worthington) undertake a secret mission to capture a Nazi war criminal (Jesper Christiansen) but things don’t go quite according to plan. In the ‘present day’ of 1995, the three (played by Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds respectively) struggle to cope when the truth about what really happened threatens to come out.
It’s a straightforward set up that plays on the strengths of its cast. Jessica Chastain is particularly excellent and rightly should become more of fixture on our screens (we’re due for a Chastain overload soon – The Tree Of Life is already out and The Help, Take Shelter and Coriolanus are all released very soon).
She’s got a tough job here as she has to play a younger version of Helen Mirren, an unenviable task for any actress. Fortunately she rises to the challenge and allows the strength, determination and vulnerability of her character to shine through – a particular highlight being her heart-stoppingly tense moments in a gynaecologist’s office.
Helen Mirren can do these kinds of roles in her sleep and she’s expectedly good here, haunted by a past you can see reflected in her eyes. There’s also some good support from Martin Csokas as their driven superior officer and Jesper Christian is effectively creepy but also believably human as the Nazi doctor in hiding.
It’s a shame the same can’t be said about Sam Worthington who simply doesn’t have the acting chops to compete with the rest of the cast and who stumbles badly with the Israeli accent. You keep expecting to hear “G’day mate, we’re special agents from Mossad” every time he speaks.
There’s also a grievous mistake in the casting. Ciaran Hinds plays the older Worthington but looks so different (smaller build and even different eye colours) that it’s extremely confusing as to who he’s meant to be. In addition Tom Wilkinson plays the older Csokas but looks much more like an aged version of Worthington (bigger frame, same big head) making this a recipe for serious confusion.
Furthermore the predictable love triangle which develops in the 1960s seems to have no bearing on the present day rendering it largely pointless and what for the most part is a thoughtful drama descends into an almost farcical action-orientated ending which seems completely out of place with the rest of the film.
Barring some excellent performances from the rising star of Jessica Chastain and a superb turn by Helen Mirren, there’s no reason to see The Debt over any other thriller.