The Debt Is A Gripping Thriller

Jessica Chastain and Sam Worthington in The Debt. Courtesy of Focus Features.

The Debt is an a remake of the 2007 Israeli Ophir-nominated thriller, Ha-Hov, and follows its cast through both the past and present.

The 2007 film did not get a theatrical release in the United States although it played film festivals and aired on TV. Despite this, British filmmakers would still remake the film for English-speaking audiences. After all, it did pick up four nominations in the Israeli version of the Academy Awards. The names might have changed but the plot is very much the same.

In 1965, a trio of Mossad agents have the important responsibility of capturing Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen). Like many Nazi war criminals, Israel wants to bring him to justice. Stefan Gold (Marton Csokas/Tom Wilkinson) had been the youngest unit commander in Mossad. Meanwhile, David Peretz (Sam Worthington/Ciarán Hinds) turned 29 years old during the mission. Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain/Helen Mirren)–the youngest at 25 years old–is on her first assignment in the field. Their mission ultimately fails, forcing them with a heavy burden of living a lie rather than tell the truth. This is on top of a love triangle between the three agents.

Rachel poses as David’s wife in Berlin. In heading out into the field, she brings sexual tension into the safe house. While Rachel falls in love with David, she eventually becomes pregnant with Stefan’s child. What should be an easy mission turns into something very different. And again, all three must live a lie with their failure. Israelis turn them into heroes and believing that they killed the Surgeon of Birkenau. The reality is that Vogel escaped their custody after a battle with Rachel. Years later in 1997, he is believed to be living at a hospital in Ukraine and a journalist is expected to interview him. David ends up killing himself because he cannot live a lie anymore. Minutes before killing Vogel once and for all and despite their daughter’s book, Rachel finally decides to tell the truth about 1965.

The Debt.
The Debt. Courtesy of Focus Features.

I would have written about this film differently had I written a review upon seeing it in 2011. What’s changed? My feelings when it comes to authentic representation in casting. What we have here are many non-Jewish actors portraying Jewish characters. Obviously, I wish they’d gone for authentic casting. All that aside, this film is no less of a gripping thriller with a side of romantic tension between the three Mossad agents.

Helen Mirren certainly puts in the work in playing the older version of Rachel Singer and it shows. I know I had my own criticism of Golda but her work here shows why Guy Nattiv cast in the 2023 film. But beyond her own acting performance, both Mirren and Wilkinson worked together before, which only adds to their chemistry in the film. In any event, both Chastain and Mirren work together in creating a seamless transition between the younger and older Rachel. I only wish we got to see more of Ciarán Hinds. He’s barely in the film aside from the beginning and a brief conversation with Rachel prior to his death.

While the film is a piece of fiction, it would not be unlike Mossad or other Israeli agents to go after Nazi war criminals. After all, they captured Adolf Eichmann and placed him on trial. The situation here sees them going after Vogel, a stand-in for the likes of Josef Mengele or Horst Fischer for what they did to Jews during the Holocaust.

While the narrative structure is frustrating, The Debt remains a gripping thriller.

DIRECTOR: John Madden
SCREENWRITERS: Matthew Vaughn & Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan.
CAST: Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Jesper Christensen, Marton Csokas, with Ciarán Hinds and Tom Wilkinson

Focus Features released The Debt in theaters on August 31, 2011. Grade: 4/5

Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Buttondown.


Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.