Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Debt

Get out your secret cameras and spy guns, we're reviewing The Debt!

The Debt is unexpectedly great. Not that I had any reason to think it was bad, I just didn't really think it looked all that interesting. Boy was I wrong!  It's a tense action-filled spy thriller with a tight, twisty turny plot.
This was partially written by Matthew Vaughn, writer of Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, and is based on the Israeli movie Ha-Hov, which I haven't seen so can't say how much is from that and how much is strictly original(not providing a trailer to that, because A) I can't find one with subtitles and B) their trailer actually gives away more than ours and you should REALLY be surprised by how it turns out).

In 1997, Rachel Singer(Helen Mirren) is older, has a grown-up daughter, and is widely famous for being one of the three agents that took down the evil former nazi Doctor, Dr. Bernhardt(played with a sinister flair by Jesper Christensen).  When one of her friends dies, it sparks up old memories of what happened on that mission, and a terrible secret they've all been keeping.

It's a great espionage spy thriller going back and forth between the events of 1965 and the fallout of those events in 1997. They do a stellar job of revealing the story in a suspenseful way by intertwining what happened on the mission with their older selves in 1997, creating a narrative that feels as though both histories are going forward at the same time. It provides the audience with enough to know what the basic story is, but leaves out enough to make the audience really wonder just what's going on.

Whenever I watch a thriller like this(or really any movie), I play a little game with myself to see how much of the plot I can guess will happen. I'm sure many of you do the same thing. If I can't guess what happens, as in it I get generally surprised, (or if I can guess what will happen but am enjoying myself so much that I don't care) I call that a great movie. And right about at the second act is when it becomes a great movie. There are a huge number of story twists that come up that I never would have guessed, and each time I try to catch up and guess what will happen next, it throws me off with another twist, right up to the bloody end. It's a rare movie that does that.  So if you play this little game too, you'll thoroughly enjoy this movie experience.

The camera work is slow-moving and suspenseful, and the soundtrack is tense and high-powered. It's just really well put together and many a film buff will enjoy it.  It asks some great questions of its audience, not just of what will happen in the plot, but also philosophical questions such as what is truth?  What will really matter in the world?  How far will one go to keep the truth a secret and to what ends? What is it worth to you, and how long can you keep it a secret before it eats you away inside?

There's also the love triangle of the three agents (the classic two guys one girl dilemma) but it wasn't so over the top that I hated it. It was done very subtly, and had more to do with their character than with "well they're just there".

All that artsy and philosophical good stuff aside, this movie is badass. It is a spy thriller about taking down a nazi doctor, after all. There's fighting, there's sneaking with gadgets, and there's blood. If you've seen Red, you already know Helen Mirren is badass, and in this she does not disappoint. She will make you go, "Damn Helen Mirren, you so badass!" Also, you know you were dying to see some Sam Worthington awesomeness again. He does a stand-up job, but his accent shows a little when he gets overheated. Jessica Chastain as young Rachel is as well badass, and Jesper Christensen is just an evil nazi son of a bitch who you can't wait for someone to punch in the face.

Why you should see it: A twisting tense narrative with some badass spy scenes.
Pitfalls: Sam Worthington's accent?
Overall: This well-made spy thriller is definitely worth the price of admission.  Great for the artsy crowd and the action crowd.
One Scene Metaphor: Helen Mirren sneaking into a building to gather intel. Does this aged agent still have it in her? Yes she does.  Very suspenseful, very tense, very badass.


  1. Good Review! Sports an intriguing premise and uniformly strong performances, but its second act is mediocre and its third act even worse, and it can't help but pale in comparison to Munich. Check out mine when you get your chance!

  2. I couldn't disagree more. The second and third act are what made it for me, and while Munich was supremely badass, I felt it had an unsatisfying ending, like most "based on true story" movies do.