Chastain shines in The Debt

LOOKING back on a summer of cinema filled with comic book sagas, alien invasions and sharp but touching romedies (the new word for rom-com, obviously), The Debt slides nicely alongside Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as another way to kick off a potentially harsh winter.

Thursday, 6th October 2011, 10:13 am

Grey, cold and austere, the atmosphere of gloom is evident in John Madden’s post-holocaust saga from the outset.

The plot dances between 1965 and 1997, a flashback heavy narrative that is sometimes slightly more complicated than one would like.

It follows the story of three Israeli agents: Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington in the past, Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds in the present.

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The past – set in East Berlin – is steeped in dark repression as the trio of young Mossad agents track down a wanted Nazi war criminal (Jesper Christensen).

But while the mission seemingly ends in triumph with the three heroes killing their target, the truth is something quite different, and in 1997, the past comes back to haunt them.

Chastain is the star of this film, sinking her teeth into a meaty role which frankly leaves little for Mirren, who plays the haunted shadow of the scarred former agent.

The queasiness of the scenes where the young spy is dispatched to identify and bring back to Israel a medical practitioner, Dieter Vogel, are amplified by her having to pose as a gynaecological patient, vulnerable and exposed to someone she suspects is a surgeon sidelining in butchering people.

Effective scriptwriting from Matthew Vaughn offers a chilling portrait of Nazi Germany but the biggest downside is the 90s scenes are not as effective as those in the 60s.

A badly misjudged finale, which swaps the logical action of earlier scenes for a silly, Bourne-style confrontation, means it also stumbles at the final hurdle.

But even though it threatens to drag everything else down with it, the quality of what comes before is more than enough to make the experience a worthwhile one.

Overall it’s a tense and well acted thriller that suffers from an occasional lack of focus, but at least it offers something for those looking for a film with more on its mind than superficial fluff.