Director: John Madden.
Producer: Eitan Evan, Eduardo Rossof, Krys Thykier, Matthew Vaughan. Writers: Matthew Vaughan, Jane Goldman, Peter Straughan. Camera: Ben Davis. Music: Thomas Newman. Sets Jim Clay.
Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, Ciaran Hinds, Jesper Christensen, Romi Aboulafia.
A ménage a trois develops between Mossad agents Chastain, Worthington and Csokas when they are charged with capturing a notorious Nazi war criminal and bringing him to trial in Israel. Years later, as Chastain’s daughter Aboulafia launches a book about their heroic act, a dark secret between this now mature group (Mirren, Wilkinson and Hinds) surfaces that threatens to wrench them apart.
Goldman and Vaughan, if nothing else, have a wide range of interests when it comes to making movies. From the tongue-in-cheek fantasy of Stardust, the blockbuster comic books Kick-Ass! and X-Men: First Class to this, a remake of an obscure 2007 Israeli drama that is about as serious as you can get, they certainly get around the block in terms of genre. Here, they persuasively explore the rocky foundations on which hero worship can be built.
The Debt is a little like a revisionist Marathon Man, but although it lacks that film’s scenes of extended dental torture, it more than makes up for it as the vile and unrepentant Nazi Christensen (clearly based on Josef Mengele) is force-fed gruel for what seems like the entire of the middle part of the movie. It’s during these sequences that the script comes to life as Christensen uses psychology to divide the group and conquer and utters distasteful anti-semitism.
Christensen adds further grit to an already superlative raft of performances from a cannily cast group of actors. Mirren and hot young thing of the moment Chastain (The Tree of Life, The Help) were clearly chosen not just for their acting but also their close physical resemblance, though it is more of a stretch making us believe that the relatively diminutive Worthington would grow up to be the strapping Hinds. The characters’ nationality also gives the cast a chance to flex their chameleon vocal talents.
Madden, a director who has achieved some success with thoughtful drama (Mrs Brown, Shakespeare in Love, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) was a sure hand for a difficult subject matter, but still manages to inject some startlingly gruesome moments (we open with a man being run over in bone-crunching detail) and stomach-knotting tension (catching the Nazi doctor; and the surprise climax will have you on the edge of your seat).