The Debt [Review by Parsi]
The Debt was mostly suspense with little substance. If you want a few nervous moments and the anticipation of an imminent hit, the film will deliver. But if you are looking for some greater form of justification to keep you motivated and involved, you will be disappointed.
I was expecting a great deal more from a film that follows the activities of three Mossad agents. The film only contains two short but rather gruesome actions scenes. I am not demanding constant action from the film, but I expected more from field agents going after a thinly rewritten Dr. Josef Mengele.
The movie sells itself in part on delivering a big twist, but the twist is not really that surprising and felt kind of ho-hum. I was neither intrigued nor surprised.
The film also drops the ball when it comes to any attempt to do anything interesting with its characters.
Dieter Vogel is supposed to be a cruel surgeon who inhumanely studied and butchered Jews during WWII. After the War he was able to live in Russian controlled East Berlin as a mild-mannered OBGYN. When he is eventually captured by the Mossad agents he is held by them while they await orders on how to transport him to be tried.
During his detention by the Mossad agents he attempts to engage in discussions with his captors and in particular with Rachel Singer. Dieter asks after his wife. He indicates his sadness that she never had children, because she would have made a good mother. These discussions are meant to humanize this monster. Obviously this is part of his ultimate strategy to secure leniency from them.
But, it also highlights a different issue as well, that sometimes even the most monstrous of people still have humanity within them. This does not absolve them of their actions, but it emphasizes the way any of us can teeter between the normal and the inhuman. This was the lesson from the much maligned Milgram experiment which evidenced that under the right authority even the kind are capable of unspeakable cruelty.
But, the film ultimately shies away from this potential insight when Vogel spews hatred and cruelty. Vogel soon takes on the same caricature we have seen numerous times before, a truly dark and sinister figure. A real opportunity was lost in this interaction. A far more successful discussion on some of these themes can be seen in Ariel Dorfman’s play Death and the Maiden (I cannot vouch for the film adaptation).
The motivation for the characters is also really lacking. I had little interest in the purported fits of conscious and philosophical uncertainty of the characters. I would not want to spoil it for those of you who might contemplate watching the film, but it is safe to say that the quandaries and moral dilemmas the characters face caused me great puzzlement. There were so many layers of contradiction in their motivations that an aspiring but boring dissertation could take up the task of untangling them.
As for the acting, the accents of the Sam Worthington, Marton Csokas, and Jessica Chastain were at times distracting. They faded in and out. It was not laughably bad, but not quite right either. Chastain was not as engaging as her other recent performance, but was nonetheless solid. Helen Mirren shines once more, in a rather limited role.
The story also plodded along at rather un-suspenseful pace. Even when the plot thickened, I had to strain to be involved.
In the end, the film is just not that compelling and failed to do anything really novel. The twist is not worth the ride and the attempts at philosophy and psychology were rudimentary if not border-line silly.
PARSI VERDICT: Not worth the debt.