Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Debt

Note: some spoilers here...

Some while back I walked in on a movie that was showing on TV late one night.  Helen Mirren was fighting for her life with some elderly man who managed to stab her a couple of times.  Last night I watched the rest of the movie, which is a taut thriller based around three Israelis kidnapping a German doctor. They believe he was a Nazi who committed various 'research' atrocities on Jews in one of the concentration camps.  These three also appear, played by different actors, in sequences that occur thirty years later: this is where Helen Mirren is involved.

The film, The Debt, is primarily concerned with the decision the three younger people have to make when their prisoner escapes, and how they live with that decision for the next thirty years - until the doctor is apparently found again.  Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren play the main female character in the story, with Sam Worthington and Ciar├ín Hinds pairing off as the Israeli whose conscience plagues him, and New Zealander Marton Csokas and Tom Wilkinson sharing the role of the other man who is able to put the past behind him very easily, even when things go wrong. 

So while it's a thriller, in that there are some excellent suspense sequences, it's also a story about relationships, people caught up in close quarters and struggling with the consequences of a botched kidnap.  The doctor is played by Jesper Christensen; he's brilliant in his role of a man still capable of winding up the Jewish psyche and coming out on top.  

The end of the film, which in some ways undercuts the values of the rest of the movie, is a bit of a female Jason Bourne sequence: not quite believable and all relying on split second timing.  Helen Mirren is, as always, superb in her role, but she's asked to make credible the stealing of documents from a newspaper office, the tracking down of the evil doctor, and a subsequent fight to the death with him.  This is Hollywood stuff that's not quite comfortable with what's gone before.  

Nevertheless, as a thriller this is well done.  Hinds doesn't get enough screen time - his character is killed off in the first few minutes, seen again quite a bit later on and then lost again.  Sam Worthington is the quieter of the two young men, a man with a mission who struggles to see beyond the borders of his intents.  Czokas is the wild man and fills the part easily, and strongly.  Chastain, with her tight angular features, has the major role, and does very well. 


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