Monday, October 03, 2011


The Debt
is a split-narrative movie. In the first, set in 1965 East Berlin, three Mossad agents - Rachel, David and Stefan - are sent behind the Iron Curtain in order to capture a Nazi war criminal so that he can face trial in Israel. In the second, set in 1997 Tel Aviv, Rachel is the subject of a book written by her daughter all about her heroic exploits 30 years before; David is a psychologically troubled loner; and Stefan is a high-ranking official in the Israeli government. To say much more would be to do the film a disservice. This is a thriller after all and the twists and turns of the plot, of which I knew nothing before I entered the theater, are worth preserving.

For my money, this is everything that Tomas Alfredson's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy promised to be but wasn't. An espionage thriller with a period Cold War setting; the stakes are high and the emotional conflicts instantly relatable. The three comparative naifs that we are introduced to in 1960s Berlin are convincing spies - physically strong, bright, assured and effortlessly confident speaking both German and English - but all three also have believable motivations for being involved in the murky world of espionage in the first place. As guardians of the Israeli state, their goal is to bring a known criminal to justice, though, of course, this being a Cold War spy thriller, things quickly get much more complicated.

I am reluctant to say more lest I divulge anything that might spoil the film. Just to say, the script is wittily written, John Madden, of Shakespeare in Love fame, is a very competent director (here I mean that as the highest possible compliment - telling the story expertly while not drawing any undue attention to his role behind the camera), and among a cast who deliver uniformly excellent performances, Jessica Chastain is the standout - brave, alluring, vulnerable, sensitive, sad and cast in steel.

If it is playing in a cinema near you, seek this out ahead ahead of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. A small film that packs an unexpected punch.


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