This review originally appeared on KTKA-TV and KSNT-TV, Kansas First News.
Helen Mirren headlines an excellent ensemble cast in “The Debt,” a remake of a 2007 Israeli thriller about three Mossad agents hunting for a Nazi war criminal in East Berlin in 1965. Those same agents, played by different actors in 1997 Tel Aviv, deal with the emotional fallout.
The audience learns that there is more than one version of their story, but the film is very lopsided because the 1965 story is far more effective. As a straight suspense movie, “The Debt” works well. Jessica Chastain plays the younger Mirren with a steely confidence at first that is shaken by her undercover encounters with the infamous Nazi monster she’ll eventually have to kidnap. Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas round out the team, and the three agents live under constant stress. When the mission is finally carried out, director John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love,” “Proof”) manages the suspense expertly.
Less effective are the scenes where Mirren and her older counterparts (Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds) are faced with a moment of truth. We’re way ahead of the movie in figuring out their secret, even though the plot has to logically play this all out. The movie then becomes more about a difficult choice the characters have to make. And that should have been enough.
Unfortunately, that aspect of the story isn’t explored with any real depth, and rather than wrestling with it for any length of time, it is obscured by a silly, tacked-on action sequence that borders on camp. Without issuing any spoilers, let’s just say that the final reveal and “action scene” is unintentionally hilarious and ruins everything the film had worked towards.
The acting is good across the board, but only half of “The Debt” works like it’s supposed to.