Helen Mirren  plays a Mossad agent

Helen Mirren plays a Mossad agent

Aisle Seat: The Debt is worth the pay off

The Debt: Three and a half stars out of five

  • Sep. 25, 2011 11:00 a.m.

There’s a lot going on in The Debt. Now, with most political thrillers, it’s a pretty good idea to limit your bathroom breaks for fear of getting lost. Here, you can test the bladder, sit it out, and still suffer a spinning noggin.

Director John Madden is juggling enough material that The Debt could easily snuggle into, say, an entire season’s worth of drama television. 

I mean, not only is this thing overly twisty, it’s bouncing between two time sequences.

If you manage to catch each and every detail, I’d like to speak with you, ‘cause I have questions. But, no matter, what I did manage to ingest, I did enjoy.

Besides, the main theme ––largely, it’s revenge–– speaks all languages, my own simplicity included.

Half of the story is set in 1966, as a trio of Mossad agents (Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington) venture into Germany to track down  Nazi war criminal Dr. Vogel (Jesper Christensen), dubbed the “Surgeon of Birkenau,” and bring him back to Israel to face trial.

As he’s now posing as a gynecologist in East Berlin, you can probably guess how one member of the group, Chastain, gets close to Vogel before capturing him… and it ain’t very comfortable.

An attempt to get their hostage out of Germany by train falls apart, and the agents are forced to temporarily hole up with the monster.

And, without giving too much away, the flip side of The Debt is based in Tel Aviv, 1997, where Chastain’s character, now played by Mirren, is hailed as a hero of the Cold War, largely for her efforts three decades prior.

Her fellow agents (the “seasoned” edition, played by Tom Christensen and Ciaran Hinds) are still alive as well, but it’s evident that some kind of cover up exists from their storied operation. And once the layers of truth are peeled away, the moral dilemmas of the older players quickly begin to trump the espionage exploits of their youth in sheer interest.

Based on an award winning Israeli film of the same title, The Debt is a little clunky in its transitions between the time periods, and perhaps because of that, just seems a little too stuffed.

Mentally, this is one of the more exhaustive flicks to come down the pike in some time. But then, after a summer of mostly half-wit fare, the workout did me good.

The feature is currently playing at Vernon’s Towne Cinema.

–– Jason Armstrong is The Morning Star’s film reviewer. His column, Aisle Seat, appears every Friday and Sunday.