Short Takes: The Debt
By Laura Kern
(John Madden, U.S., 2010)
Filling the shoes of Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciarán Hinds—actors who can transcend even the limpest of material—is no mean feat, but that’s exactly what Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington are called upon to do in The Debt. With varying degrees of success they meet the challenge, portraying the same characters 30 years younger, without any of them looking particularly like their older selves.
Weaving back and forth from 1966 to 1997, John Madden’s engrossing remake of the 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov relates both the minutest details of the fateful assignment on which the three Mossad agents meet—capturing and killing a long-in-hiding Nazi war criminal (remarkably played by Jesper Christensen)—and how each has learned to live with the fact that it may not have gone off as reported. The past continually haunts them, most recently because a book written by the daughter of two of the agents detailing her mother’s heroism, is being published—just as some unwelcome news surfaces that may compromise the trio’s previous “truth.”
With just the right balance of sophistication (especially surprising coming from the screenwriter of Kick-Ass), romance, and intrigue—the scenes in which Chastain’s character visits their target, now a gynecologist, posing as a wife having trouble conceiving are especially taut—the film delivers both as a love story and as an old-fashioned espionage thriller that no amount of implausibility or mixed accents can spoil.