Movie review: “The Debt”


Partner and I saw “The Debt” this past weekend. We mostly went for Helen Mirren, who is good in pretty much anything she does. (If you haven’t seen “The Queen,” drop your needlepoint and rush out to rent it, or something.) For once, I didn’t know the movie’s plot in advance; I only knew generally that it involved some Israeli Mossad agents who were reactivated to complete some unfinished business.

Who doesn’t like a spy thriller? A good spy thriller, I mean, with a little subtlety: good, and evil, and the huge gray area in-between. And huge symbols: the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall. Drab central-European landscapes and nondescript cities – Prague? Budapest? Berlin? Churches, dilapidated castles . . .

You know I hate suspense. I usually make a point of learning the ending in advance, just so I don’t have to suffer. Well, I didn’t see this one coming, so for once I had the pleasure of being surprised. The movie has a very neat twist about halfway through, which I did not expect.

But: the story is morally very cut-and-dried, good and evil, Mossad versus Nazi-butcher-in-hiding: how much more clear-cut can you get? We know who’s good and who’s evil.

But, then again, no we don’t.

There are some big plot holes here, which require some major suspension of disbelief.

But, in this movie, it’s all about the casting.

Each of the three main characters is seen in 1965 and in 1997, and so we require two actors for each. David, the sensitive soul, is Sam Worthington (who spent most of his time as a blue long-tailed alien in “Avatar”), and also Ciaran Hinds, who was the imperious Julius Caesar in the TV series “Rome.” Both are staring and vulnerable and very moving. Stefan, the pushy officious leader, is Marton Csokas, who was Celeborn in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and who’s very good (and also very handsome, and nice in a tight t-shirt) here, and also as Tom Wilkinson, that really stellar actor who can do pretty much anything. And Rachel, the key member of the group, is Jessica Chastain (whom I only recently met in “The Help,” as a vulnerable young housewife), and in later life, Helen Mirren, about whom I need say very little.

Lovely, all six of them.

But I need to say a word about the wonderful (and heretofore unknown to me) Danish actor Jesper Christensen.

His was a difficult role: a reworking of the Josef Mengele story. We first meet him as a doctor in East Berlin in 1965, and he is considerate and gentle and kind. We know he has butchered babies and children, back in the concentration camps; we try to keep all of that in mind. But he is enormously manipulative, and ultimately vicious. He uses his voice, his soft gentle reasonable voice, to accomplish everything. Early on in the movie, I thought: My god, he’s the serpent in the Garden of Eden. He’s using words to make these nice young people doubt themselves, and do things they shouldn’t do.

This movie: it’s a good old time in the cinema. There are some nasty bloody scenes, but you can shield your eyes. I did.

Go see it.


About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

One Response to Movie review: “The Debt”

  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good Review! Sports an intriguing premise and uniformly strong performances, but its second act is mediocre and its third act even worse, and it can’t help but pale in comparison to Munich. Check out mine when you get your chance!

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