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The Debt DVD Review

Director: John Madden

Cast: Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Tom Wilkinson

Running Time: 113 minutes

Certificate: 15

Synopsis: Mossad agents Rachel (Helen Mirren), David (Ciarán Hinds) and Stefan (Tom Wilkinson) have enjoyed years of adulation after tracking down a Nazi war criminal for their country. But when shocking news concerning David reaches Rachel and Stefan, we are taken back thirty years, to find out what really happened on that fateful mission…

You would be forgiven for thinking THE DEBT is just another run-of-the-mill Hollywood production. After all, it has many a big name attached to it: Matthew Vaughn, director of last year’s X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, wrote the script; John Madden (MRS BROWN, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) directed; an all-star cast heads proceedings (Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain and Sam Worthington among others). And while the film does at times carry many of Hollywood’s maddening flaws, it does have one thing going for it that sets it apart from the rest: intelligence.

The film begins in 1997, with our three protagonists Rachel, Stephan and David (in their older incarnations of Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds) having enjoyed thirty years of adulation for their capture of a fled Nazi war criminal. But of course, all is not as it seems, and we travel back to three decades before – with genuinely surprising revelations and startling twists.

Here we encounter THE DEBT’s first major problem: with perhaps the exception of the gorgeous Jessica Chastain, who’s fast becoming one of our favourite actresses, none of the younger incarnations of the three leads bears any resemblance to their older selves. While this is not detrimental to the film’s plot or style, it does jar slightly; especially in trying to figure out who Sam Worthington’s supposed to evolve into (though it’s surprising he can evolve at all).

Once you’ve wrapped your head around who’s who, though, the rest of the film is fairly easy to decode. Once you get past the first thirty minutes, that is, which only confuse matters further, by showing half a scene, or half a conversation, and randomly flitting between the two time periods with little indication. By the end of the film it becomes clear that this has all been a huge setup so that it has something to come back to and reveal at the climax – and in this sense feels as if it’s trying a little too hard.

But once you get past the first half hour (and we really mean it this time) the main story kicks in, and things start to make sense good and proper. It’s well paced, suspenseful and brilliantly shot by Madden. The twists are unpredictable; the acting lean, mean and completely convincing (though again, Sam Worthington’s efforts do fall somewhat short). The audience feels compelled to put themselves in the actors’ shoes; would you make the same choices the trio are forced to make? The film’s powerful story throws into the air the concepts of right and wrong; of morals, ethics and the truth – and promptly sprays a magazine of ammunition at them. That’s not to say it’s blunt – simply that it’s a barrage of ‘what if?’s that provide no concrete resolutions, but leave much to the audience’s own conclusions. It doesn’t patronise; a rare comment on modern film.

THE DEBT is a unique film for its time: one that doesn’t rely on explosions for its suspense, but rather a masterful script (past its first thirty minutes) that’s chock full of clever writing, building tension and delivering revelations and twists worthy of its heavy themes. It’s a film the likes of which are rarely seen these days, and the fact that it was a relative success can only be a good thing. Had the film been made chronologically, without the gratuitous use of flashbacks, its flaws may have been overcome. As is, this espionage thriller isn’t perfect, but is hopefully a sign of things to come.

Extras: Aside from a feature commentary with director John Madden and producer Kris Thykier it’s a bit thin on the ground – there’s a few short clips covering Helen Mirren, the inevitable ‘Making Of’, and the film’s love triangle, but they’re hardly long enough to constitute a proper set of DVD extras, and would probably serve better as online marketing promos than anything.


  THE DEBT is available on DVD and Blu-ray from 23rd January 2012.


Chris started life by almost drowning in a lake, which pretty much sums up how things have gone so far. He recently graduated in Journalism from City University and is actually a journalist and everything now (currently working as Sports Editor at The News Hub). You can find him on Twitter under the ingenious moniker of @chriswharfe.

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