Thursday, September 8, 2011

Movie Review - The Debt

There have been movies that have started some place exciting and explosive, and then the movie flashes back and often time recounts what happened that led up to that exciting and explosive moment. Often times, that moment will be two-thirds or more into the film and the filmmakers will show clips from that scene as a reminder, but, usually, they don't replay the entire scene again.

In The Debt, the New Year's Eve scene is that exciting and explosive moment. It's a powerful and thrilling scene, and the reason I know it's so is because director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) totally replays that same scene, shot for shot, not leaving anything out, after the flashbacks are over, and the scene still works. In fact, it's even better the second time around, given everything you learn about the people in it.

In a sense, that scene is played three times in the movie and the third time is just as good as the first two. That scene is Rachel Singer, a Mossad agent who is on a secret mission to find and capture Dr. Bernhardt also known as Dieter Vogel, a Nazi war criminal who was the "Butcher of Birkenau."

In all three instances, Rachel has to fight Vogel. Each fight is not overly violent, but they are all really intense. They each had me on the edge of my seat and totally enthralled. What happens in between to set up those later fights is so rich and well-acted that I can't help but think it's going to get an Oscar nomination in some regard, if not for Best Picture.

Helen Mirren (The Queen and Gosford Park) stars as Rachel in 1997 whose daughter has written a book about her mission to get Vogel, which happened back in 1965. The launch party for the book attracts two former, Mossad agents who were involved in Rachel's mission. Tom Wilkinson co-stars as Stephan and CiarĂ¡n Hinds briefly appears as David.

David has information about Vogel, some thirty years after the mission, that David wants to expose. Stephan knows about this and wants to stop David. Rachel is put in the middle and ultimately has to decide if that information will be revealed or not. The process puts Rachel back in her Mossad shoes where she basically has to become a secret agent again.

Rachel is like the 60-year-old, female version of Eric Bana's character in Munich (2005), except her character isn't an assassin. Even though she may want to do so, her character doesn't kill, which was a critical point of contention for her in 1965.

Half the movie involves the depiction of that 1965 contention. Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life and The Help) plays Rachel in that time period. Chastain is excellent in this action thriller role. Just as someone like Angelina Jolie, Chastain is comfortable in the action fights and shootouts as she is in the quiet, two-people-sitting-and-talking scenes.

One such scene has Chastain sitting and talking to Jesper Christensen (The Interpreter and Quantum of Solace). Christensen plays Vogel. The performance from him is stunning to say the least, but Chastain's is one of remarkable control where you feel how sick she becomes and that contention on every inch of her face. It's ironic because she doesn't actually talk in that scene, yet way more is said.

Martin Csokas plays the younger version of Stephan and does a terrific job, but Sam Worthington (Avatar and Terminator Salvation) really surprises by giving his best performance since 2004's Somersault. He has a similar scene as Chastain's where he has to sit and face off with Vogel. It's certainly more memorable than Chastain's scene with Vogel, but from that to the sexual tension and guilt he expresses later, it makes this movie a high standout in his filmography.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for violence and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 53 mins.

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