The Debt





Directed By: John Madden

Starring: Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, and Tom Wilkinson


A good spy thriller always has twists and turns in the plot.  It keeps you guessing for a while.  A great spy thriller always has a badass lead.  Steven Spielberg's Munich is a strong example of a great spy thriller.  All the drama, thrills, and plot twists were there, but those boys were kicking some ass in the process.  With Helen Mirren starring in John Madden's The Debt, I was hoping to see a badass granny.  Instead, Mirren's character remains woeful about the mistakes of her past and makes the film laborious to watch at times.  The Debt is just a decent movie with a stellar cast.

Retired Mossad spies Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren), Stephan Gold (Tom Wilkinson), and David Peretz (Ciarán Hinds) have been harboring a terrible secret for the last thirty years.  The three former secret agents have been lauded for decades for the successful completion of a mission that they undertook in 1966.  They were tasked with capturing Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), a Nazi war criminal who slaughtered thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.  When Rachel and Stephan receive some terrible news about David and their dark secret, they must dig up their past and do what they must to protect the world from the truth.

The Debt is a spy thriller masquerading as a slow, weighty drama that drags on way too long.  I actually thought about grabbing a little shuteye during the film.  Helen Mirren's character gets bogged down in a long-lost romance instead of the dark scandal at hand.  I understand that reflecting on her past means that Rachel will inevitably reflect on her lost love David, but making this a central theme in the film is a huge mistake for a spy thriller.  It leaves me tempted to grab a bottle of anything to help finish the film.  Writers Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman should know better than this.

Throughout the film, Mirren's Rachel reflects on her past and the actual facts of the mission to bring Dieter Vogel to justice.  The younger trio of Rachel, David, and Stephan are portrayed by Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Marton Csokas respectively.  Vaughn and Goldman do a better job with the younger cast, who delivered somewhat enjoyable performances at best.

As enjoyable as they are, none of them are badasses.  Jessica Chastain gave a decent performance as the young Rachel.  She was having a really good year with films like The Tree of Life and The Help, but this flick may have been a misstep for her.  There's nothing here that's memorable except Christensen's Dieter Vogel kicking the crap out of her on screen twice.

Sam Worthington is a bland, one-note actor. He has no personality on screen. Whether in The Debt, Clash of the Titans, or Terminator: Salvation, he doesn't do anything to prove that he is nothing more than a leading man manufactured by the Hollywood machine.  His portrayal of the young David is uninteresting altogether, and drags the film down.  This was a poor casting choice by John Madden.

The younger Stephan, portrayed by Martin Csokas, may have been the most enjoyable member of the younger trio.  Then again, his character is hard to dislike.  He was portraying a smooth, crafty spy.  Among the group of young spies, he was the antihero whom you've gotta love.

The saving grace of this film is the performance by Jesper Christensen as Dieter Vogel.  His portrayal of an infamous war criminal is downright chilling.  He's a real badass who proves it throughout the film, but the greatness of his performance cannot be credited to some menacing physicality on screen.  Christensen's Vogel is a badass because of his vicious and piercing dialogue with the young spies throughout the film.  Vogel knows how to get into the head of his captors, and he screws around quite a bit with Rachel and David in particular.

All in all, The Debt is a decent espionage thriller that adds nothing to the genre.  I expected more from the Queen and her stellar costars.  On this Labor Day weekend, I was hoping for something a little better to close out the summer blockbuster season.  If you don't fall asleep during The Debt, you'll need at least beer or wine to finish it.  This slow spy thriller gets a 0.09% rating.