John Madden’s “The Debt” infiltrates the mind with a sense of intrigue and mystery, covered in a blanket of unknown personalities. The premise is strong and pressing, when a trio of aged CIA agents realize that a surgeon, who they lied about the fact that he was dead, is re-surfacing in the modern world and announcing his existence to a journalist. The journalist plans to interview the Nazi surgeon at the hospital he resides, but agent Rachel Singer, played by Helen Mirren, is coaxed by the reckless agent, Stephan, to go and kill the man before the journalist arrives.
The real events from 1965 in Berlin are shown through flash-backs: Jessica Chastain plays young Rachel Singer, Sam Worthington as Young David, and Marton Csokas as Stephan. The third-wheel woman, Singer, has trouble cooperating with her team from the start: Stephan is a insensitive near misogynist who wants Singer to be attracted to him, and David is a sensitive, but reserved agent. The scenes are displayed with honest, and the factor of regret plays in the film strongly when we see their future selves; torn about by their ignorance, futility to the truth, and lack of compassion.
The casting is regarded widely as mediocre, and it is without a doubt a failure. David’s old self lacks the strong chin of Sam Worthington, and looks such a dark tone as to seem Latin-American. Stephan’s older self has little boldness like the younger version, and loses his grittiness and skin tone to a flabby corporate-like look. The only decent casting choice, in my opinion, is Helen Mirren as Rachel. Her face has the sweet, yet concerned quality of Jessica Chastain. And to pick out a single actress, Chastain displays in The Debt ample ability. Her emotional scenes are unconsciously emotive and strong.
The film’s plot is engaging, and most of the time shot very well. Their aren’t that many discernible moments where the director sacrifices realism for slickness, which is the sort of viewer sighting that comes with mediocre CIA films. The Berlin scenes are shot somewhat averagely, with the assumption that smoky breath from Nazi Guards is enough to chill the viewer’s bones; not so much, a little more build-up or almost-found moments would have thrust the film forward at the right speed of the agent’s thinking and paranoia.
The Debt is a well-acted, albeit at times structurally inefficient film, that has its characters in front-row and the action as backdrop. It is a sly and intriguing feature, and poses grave questions about truth, morality, and perception.