In a summer where the movies have been filled with action hero movies, crude humor comedies, and predictable romantic comedies, one film has shown promise of breaking the mold. For the last three months, trailers for The Debt have shown promise of a decent spy film returning to the theaters, hopefully bringing some well-developed drama to the table. Now that the film has finally arrived, I paid a visit to the Alamo Theater to see if the film delivered. Read on to find out my thoughts.
For those who haven’t seen the trailer, the Debt is about three secret agents Rachel (Helen Mirren), Stephan (Tom Wilkinson), and David (Ciarán Hinds) as they tell the story of their mission in Berlin. The movie is filmed as a series of flashback where their younger counterparts, played by Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington respectively, act out the mission to find Doktor Bernhardt (Jesper Christensen). As the mission continues to play out, the spies’ psychological profiles soon are challenged by the mad doctor. Thirty years later, the audience gets to see the results of the mission and what their decisions have rewarded them with.
For once I am happy to say that the trailer was representative of the movie. The only thing that was different from my trailer interpretation was that the mission was the two worlds were not as integrated as I had expected. The first fifteen minutes of the movie provide a quick introduction into the modern life and introduce some unanswered questions that immediately pull the audience into the film. The next hour then focuses on the past, as the younger counterparts enter Berlin and go on the hunt for the mad doctor. Here is where I will say that the cast and crew of this movie did a fantastic job creating a covert mission. Unlike some of the other spy films we have seen, The Debt trades explosions, car chases, and gun fights for a more realistic take on being a secret agent. The planning, the practice, and the commitment to their fake lives are incredibly believable and one can’t help, but get roped in to the character. The pace of the mission is still pretty fast and the clever spy maneuvers are executed at just the right times to keep one into the film.
Eventually though we fall into the drama of the film as complications to the original plan begin to take their toll on the characters. As their psyches begin to wear down, the background of the characters begins to develop and their morals and characters are soon revealed. Here the pace of the movie slows down considerably as the drama soon turns into a dragged out sequence of repetitive shots that wear thin on one’s patience. Yes there is a lot of great information, and the well written dialogue is delivered brilliantly to add an extra emotional layer to the film. However, I eventually grew bored of the repetitive information and began wondering how long it would be until the movie either ended or moved on. Eventually the twist to the plot came, surprising me in the process, and soon brought Mirren and company back into the picture. Here the answers to the question I had throughout the movie are revealed, and the pace picks up once more. Mirren for the most part drives the rest of the movie and fans of the actress will be drawn into the last twenty minutes of the film in deep suspense.
My main problems with this film center on the pace of the film. Although the mission was exciting and suspense filled, the dramatic change in pace during the second half of the flashback really bored me. The constant repetition of the information, and the constant dwelling on certain events grew annoying with each passing mission. Fans may also be disappointed in the fact that the movie focuses primarily on Rachel’s story, which wasn’t a big issue for me. The ending as well was a little dragged out for me and there were a few times I was ready for the film to be over with, despite me being a big Helen Mirren fan.
Overall The Debt is a solid spy film with a lot of great character development thrown into the mix. The superb cast, quality acting, intriguing questions, and suspense spy actions are all nicely integrated into this movie. Unfortunately the dragged out plot and slow pace during some parts of the movie are weaknesses the cast should have worked on, as well as better balancing in the elderly actors. My review for this film is a somewhere between a 7.0-7.5, and recommend this film to anyone looking for great character development. Check back next time for my reviews on Apollo 18 and Shark Attack.