Maybe it’s just me, since this film got lots of good reviews, but I found The Debt to be a good half hour movie wrapped in a mediocre movie that went on for 104 minutes.
It’s billed as a Helen Mirren vehicle, but she’s really just in the frame story. The main tale stars the smashingly lovely Jessica Chastain as young Helen, along with Martin Csokas playing the young Ciaran Hinds and Sam Worthington playing the young Tom Wilkinson. Clearly, these characters became more talented actors as they got older! The only really great performance comes from Jesper Christensen who plays an evil Nazi so convincingly he better hope God knows he was only acting.
A remake of an Israeli hit I haven’t seen, the movie is the theoretically good story of three Mossad agents sent into East Berlin to bring a Nazi war criminal back to Israel for trial. When the kidnap goes awry, they get stuck in a house with their prisoner — a man of Satanic evil who can torment our heroes psychologically even with his hands tied behind his back. That’s the good part of the story — an entertaining cat-and-mouse game with some interesting moral implications. But everything that happens before and after it manages to be both unbelievable and completely predictable. On top of which, the plot points make us care less and less about the characters as the story progresses.
Also — and for me most annoying of all — the morality of the story is skewed and ridiculous. I don’t think any real Mossad agent would have had a moment’s hesitation about silencing this Nazi demon with a bullet — nor should he. This notion that Jews — and by extension westerners — are meant to be so fastidiously committed to civilized norms of justice that they can’t get their moral hands dirty in an emergency or war situation is the figment of child-like artistes more interested in displaying their own pristine virtue than telling real stories about real people. I’m reminded of Steven Spielberg’s stinky film Munich which shows Mossad agents suffering from remorse and moral degradation after they deliver vengeance for the Palestinian massacre of Israelis at the 1972 Olympics. In real life, the agents who killed the killers felt no remorse whatsoever nor should they have. Sometimes our killers have to kill people. That’s why we have them. Life’s tough. Our stories should celebrate their courage and commitment to justice instead of sticking them with the namby-pamby souls of pampered filmmakers.
Likewise, in The Debt, when Csokas puts a gun to the Nazi’s head, Worthington stops him saying, “We’re not animals.” It would have been both more realistic and more admirable if he’d just helped mop up the brains afterward.