The Debt (I) (2010)

Greg Says: An action film at the speed of two elderly people in hand-to-hand combat.

Title: The Debt (I) (2010)
Date: 3 September 2011
Recommendation: Don’t waste your time
Helpful: 4 out of 9 found this helpful.


Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) is a retired Israeli spy with a secret. She went on a mission in 1965 behind the Berlin Wall to capture and bring to trial an evil Doctor Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) who was responsible for unspeakable crimes against Jews in the German concentration camps during the second world war. Her secret is that something went wrong and nobody’s talking. Her ex-husband Stephen Gold (Tom Wilkonson) had gone on that mission with her along with David Pertez (Claren Hinds). At a celebration of a book written about her heroism, Rachel learns that David has killed himself, and now-head of Masaad Stephen knows why.

Back in 1965, Young Rachel (Jessica Chastain), Young Stephen (Martin Coskos), and Young David (Sam Worthington) capture the doctor and must keep him on ice for a couple of weeks. What ensues is a love triangle with all three members in a claustrophobic environment.

And we’re off…

“The Debt” is a difficult film to review because it is two movies in one. On the one hand it is the story of an aging spy coming to grips with the lie she told to protect herself, her partners, and her country. On the other it is the story of three young spies in love carrying out a mission of the cold war – left over from the second world war. More over, it is the story of a love affair gone wrong. And the sacrifices that these people make.

This not only makes it a difficult movie to review, but it also makes it a difficult movie to watch. The majority of the action takes place in 1965 and is interesting to watch. Jessica Chastain and Sam Worthington deliver tense performances and Martin Coskos is the domineering force behind the team. I felt drawn into this world and was eager to see how it would all play out. As the evil doctor, Jesper Christensen delivers an understated and believable performance.

In contrast, however, the now-present-world is not so interesting. The opening 10 minutes of the film feature major characters entering and exiting automobiles to go places that we don’t spend much time in. We finally return to the present-world at the end of the movie where Rachel must deal with the effects of her decisions in the past.

(BTW: haven’t we just seen Helen Mirren in “Red” – a story about aging CIA agents kicking butt and taking names? Is this the only role for mature actors?)

IMHO, either of these stories would have made a riveting movie. But we spend more time in the past with Young Rachel than we do with Old Rachel. The problem with this is that all the stuff that happened in the past is merely the set-up to the problem Old Rachel has to solve. And she solves that in the last 10 minutes of the film. We don’t get deeply invested in either Young or Old Rachel and it ultimately makes for a dull ending.

And the ending is dull. I won’t spoil it for you here, but it is both slow and unbelievable.

So, for a divided story, slow motion action, and unbelievable climax, I recommend you “don’t waste your time.”