The Debt [Blu-Ray]

John Madden

BY Jovana JankovicPublished Dec 16, 2011

Trailers for The Debt often amped-up the film's spy-thriller elements at the expense of the weighty historical drama it actually is. This is no Midnight Cowboys, in which an aging group of ex-adventurers reunites for one last hurrah, but you'd be forgiven for thinking so. Erroneous marketing tactics aside, The Debt is a dense and intriguing story about three Mossad agents who, in '60s East Germany, attempt to capture and bring to justice an infamous Nazi surgeon, whose crimes include extensive cruel medical experimentation in the Birkenau concentration camp during WWII. Helen Mirren's character, Rachel Singer, is played in the past by the equally talented Jessica Chastain, and the heavy political matters in the film are rivalled by the tragic love triangle in which Rachel is caught with her two co-spies: David (Sam Worthington) and Stephan (Marton Csokas). Mirren's presence is limited to merely the first and last short sections, but, as usual, her performance is outstanding. In the "interviews" special feature included with the Blu-Ray, Mirren's confidence is evident, and frequently commented upon by her co-stars. Tom Wilkinson, who plays the aged Stephan, is especially insistent on this point, lauding not only Mirren's talent but also the great weight she brings to every role she undertakes (interestingly, we learn that Mirren and Wilkinson's personal relationship is a very old one). The other featurettes included function merely as summaries of the film, narrating the plot repeatedly as though they were produced as promotional material that one might watch as an introduction before the feature attraction. Director John Madden and producer Kris Thykier provide a running commentary, focusing mostly on aesthetic aspects, like the symbolism of lighting and the difficulties of creating a certain atmosphere through landscape and setting. Both Madden and Thykier are eloquent and provide ruminations on movie aesthetics that may be useful for those interested in film history and theory. The Debt is smart, honouring some complex and often contradictory aspects of allegiance: patriotism, justice and family. It possesses solid acting, dense historical content and a little twist at the end just to keep you guessing.

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