The first film for the Oscar race arrives, and it’s as good as to be expected. Director John Madden is no slouch when it comes to Oscar fare, having helmed Shakespeare in Love. His newest film, The Debt, isn’t fantastic but has evocative performances and a heart-racing story that you wish had more development.
Three Mossad operatives kidnap a Nazi war doctor in 1965, to send him to Israel to face prosecution. When they can’t smuggle him out of the city they’re stuck with him, locked up in a house. Flashing forward to the present day, the story of the three agents and their heroism is about to be told, but is the story the truth?
The 1965 segments of The Debt are the most riveting and engaging of any film in awhile. The three actors playing the agents, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Martin Csokas are wonderful and the movie truly feels like it was filmed in 1965. The color palette, the costumes, and the locations make the movie feel like a 1960s-1970s thriller in the vein of The Parallax View or The Conversation. The film tells a story within a story about the different views of heroism, the ease in which history can be manipulated, and what would you do if you could go back? All of these questions are meant to be answered but by the end you’ll have a clear opinion of them as the story unfolds. The action isn’t there all the time but when it is it makes you hold your breath. The scene of Rachel (Chastain) in the doctor’s office, as seen in the trailer, is terrifying not just because of the story but the fear of a woman in the most vulnerable position, having to fight for her life. Every action scene is deliberate and peppered with complexity. The story is slow, but it’s deliberately slow to heighten the paranoia that the group feels, being stuck in a room with a man who destroyed so many lives.
The acting here is just astounding. Chastain continues to show she’s a fantastic actress, sad that this movie has been sitting on a shelf for a few years. Her role is vulnerable, sweet, and yet she knows there is a lot riding on her shoulders. Chastain is the soul of the movie. You feel for her as a woman, as an agent, as a person. The other two men don’t have the gravitas of Chastain, but Sam Worthington and Martin Csokas continue to develop as well. The older versions of the characters, played by Helen Mirren, Ciarian Hinds, and Tom Wilkinson, are also well done with Mirren being just as a fantastic as her younger counterpart.
People might be a tad put off by The Debt’s pacing, it’s slow. The movie opens in 1965, jumps to 1997, before sticking in 1965 for a good chunk of the runtime. When the movie shows the younger group you’re riveted to the story, not so much when it flashes forward. They’re both necessary pieces to the puzzle, but you just never get used to the older version and they just feel like two separate parts of the story.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at The Debt. The story is fantastic, the acting is second to none and I love how things just unfolded like clockwork. The pace gets a taste tedious and I never truly bonded with the older group, but I enjoyed the movie!