The Debt

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Those damn Nazis just screw everything up. It's 1997, and retired Mossad agent Rachel Singer (Mirren, slumming) has long harbored a secret that is threatening to come out. In 1966, fresh-from-the-academy Rachel (Chastain, so much better than the material) and her colleagues, David (Worthington) and Stephan (Csokas), were tasked with apprehending a Mengele-like SS doctor who had evaded capture. The operation was successful, until a twist of fate left the trio and their prisoner stranded in East Berlin. After Rachel purportedly killed the e-e-e-vil doc during a failed escape attempt, she was lionized as a hero (her daughter even wrote a book about her exploits). But there's more to the story than she's letting on.

Former Miramax golden-boy John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) toggles this patently ridiculous thriller back and forth between the two time periods, showing us the original operation from start to finish and 1997 Rachel's efforts to tie up some dangling loose ends. Despite the chronological juggling, the film's stylistic debts (a Hitchcock flashback borrowed from Stage Fright, a Bertolucci-esque apartment sequence that could be titled Last Tango in Auschwitz) are simplistic to a fault; they lack the multifaceted suspense and sensuality typified by those directors at their best. Save for Jesper Christensen's hammily raving National Socialist (who belongs in an Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS sequel), this is solemnly tony Oscar bait. But at least the hair-brained climax---where the film becomes a sort of geriatric Friday the 13th with Mirren as syringe-wielding scream queen---provides a few welcome, if unintentional, laughs.

Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich

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Release details

Rated: R
Release date: Wednesday August 31 2011
Duration: 112 mins

Cast and crew

Director: John Madden
Screenwriter: Jane Goldman, Assaf Bernstein
Cast: Marton Csokas
CiarĂ¡n Hinds
Sam Worthington
Tom Wilkinson
Helen Mirren
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