Kidnapping and holding someone during the transition from one place to another is prone to failure. You can avoid talking with them, hide emotions but when there is humanity involved even in the deadliest of spies, there is always doors for intrusion from a character devilish to kill with no mercy and exposure for the sane. Something like that happens in “The Debt” and it never materializes for a clever mind game by the Nazi doctor the three Mossad agents capture and the tangled relationship in between the agents achieves no fruition for a drama.
What works right for the film are the intense scenes on how Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain) gets the information on the Nazi Doctor Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) and then orchestrates his kidnap along with her colleagues David (Sam Worthington) and commanding officer Stefan (Marton Csokas). The scenes are done with simple precision where we exactly know what is happening, at least most of the times which gets shuddered and blurred in the shaky cam craze that comes through in today’s thrillers.
The film goes back and forth between the 1997 old agents Rachel played by Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson as Stefan and Ciaran Hinds as David to their 1965 incident. I think the problem lies out there where I had hard time to transfer the emotions, pain and angst of Jessica Chastain’s Rachel to Helen Mirren’s. Granted that every one of us as a person change more than the physical appearance but the part that misses out here is that it does hold good that these two are same person and they have carried this secret despite the time it has travelled.
Rachel and David have romantic inclination as the rule dictates that women are attracted to mystical characters who keeps everything to themselves. The rules also dictate that women do crazy things when rejected by their love and the crazy thing here is Stefan. This triangle which bodes to be an underline becomes a side note. Rachel now old and divorced from Stefan has a daughter who has published a book on the heroics of her mom and dad along with David. In that it is said that Rachel killed the doctor in captive while attempting to escape making her a warrior and model figure for not alone her kid but also the country. There is obviously a notable secrecy in this version and that is the drive for the 1965 story.
This is the part I liked wherein half of their mission goes well and the transportation fumbles into taking their target as a prisoner. As they force feed the monster and give him nothing but food, the patience wears off. There is no way they can transport him out to Israel and they cannot go outside as the police are on the hunt. This is the beauty of the predicament where not alone does the cruel doctor is a captive but these three within their apartment. As Vogel laughs, mocks and frustrates David and Stefan in not eating, Rachel comes like calm angel with anger in her eyes. Vogel simply eats with no question but I believe he has seen a possibility for his escape. He has broken the other two and he knows the girl is his key piece. This game plays quite well as he breaks Rachel and soon enough David. Yet there is no weight to this process. There is a missing piece that never gets placed back. Even after knowing the truth about the dark shadows in the eyes of the old agents, we feel there is something else that is not being said. I think we are not convinced, at least I was not.
Directed by John Madden, this is a remake of Israeli film of the same name. In fairness to the director, it has all the elements the film needs to have. A tight screenplay where no scene seems to be put out of place but “The Debt” lacks weight of the relationship between these three characters. Whenever there is a possibility of a completion of a relationship, it gets pulled off by turn of events that could have happened a while later giving more chance to understand the dynamics of these ties.
Jessica Chastain comes out marginally victorious despite the disconnection with the Helen Mirren’s version. She sticks to this character almost to the end but falters when she engulfs the glory that comes along with the lie. Why would she succumb to that while David cannot? She is introduced as this strong woman deeply fearful inside trying to find meaning in the life but David is the only one who seem to have the guilt and regret. “The Debt” is not technically flawed but its screenplay unfairly omits certain parts to complete these people that makes it a better thriller but an unconvincing drama.