Payment is due.
Stars: Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Tom Wilkinson, Martin Csokas, Ciaran Hinds, Romi Aboulafia and Jesper Christensen
Director: John Madden
Scriptwriters: Jane Goldman, Peter Straughan and Matthew Vaughn
Miramax Films/Focus Features
Rating: R for violence, language and themed material
Running Length: 114 minutes
I'm tired of hearing comments about Sam Worthington's acting: "He just stands there." Acting isn't always hysterics; acting can be a quiet gesture, a look, a slight motion and this is what Sam does in his role of the younger David, one of a trio of Mossad agents after the Berlin Wall is in place. His partners, first-time-on-the-job Rachel (Jessica Chastain) and fiery Stefan (Martin Csokas), are motion actors, while David quietly sits and speaks with a glance. There is cohesiveness here and it centers on Worthington's character, as the third part of this triangle. We know what they are going to do...but what about him?? This adds to the suspense of their mission, which is to capture and bring back a Nazi war criminal, a surgeon played evilly by Jesper Christiansen, who would give any cast of the Saw films the chills.
The story of The Debt is told through flashbacks from East Berlin to present-day. East Berlin has the three Mossad agents capturing Dr. Vogel (Christiansen) in a sequence so harrowing you wonder how Jessica Chastain filmed it. After they have him, what to do? Escape has been compromised and the power countries don't want him anymore. Decisions have to be made, and there is a love triangle forming here, also. Fast-forward and Rachel (now played by Helen Mirren) has married Stefan (now played by Tom Wilkinson), with David (now played by Ciaran Hinds) gone traveling. Stefan and Rachel have a daughter (Romi Aboulafia) who has written a book about her hero, her mother, and Rachel's exploits as an agent. In the midst of the celebration comes news of two catastrophic events. Both have of which have ramifications enough for Rachel to pack a bag and become a spy again, since Stefan has been confined to a wheelchair. Tension is ratcheted up as Rachel goes prowling. This is Mirren's moment and the actress makes the most of it as she takes the fire of the younger Rachel (Chastain) and melds it with maturity. An early prediction: The Debt will get Oscar nods.
Acting is very well done, with each member of this ensemble doing stellar work, from the group in East Berlin (Chastain, Worthington, Csokas and Christiansen) to the present-day group (Mirren, Hinds and Wilkinson). The room where the first group hides out with their captive, is claustrophobic and tempers flare, aptly portrayed by the actors. It is a cat-and-mouse game between the doctor and the agents. They are overwrought and it shows. The second group has the freedom of our society and their acting can easily flow from one situation to another without looking over one's shoulder. The idea of justice being served is questionable when countries decide they don't want what you have to produce. Then, there is the question of how long do the scales of justice wait to be leveled? An interesting, tightly wound premise as shown in The Debt, that gives patience new meaning.
Copyright 2011 Marie Asner