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The Debt


the debt poster

I’ve mentioned many times the importance of certain filmmaking roles being invisible in the final product, such as writing, music, and cinematography. For The Debt, a misstep in casting becomes the most glaring flaw in a film that is actually very well planned.

Grade:

B

In 1965, three Mossad agents are tasked with apprehending a Nazi doctor in East Berlin. Thirty years later, the agents are still haunted by secrets they shared on that mission.

Jessica Chastain (Rachel), Martin Csokas (Stephan), and Sam Worthington (David) play the younger versions of the agents. Meanwhile, Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciaran Hinds play the modern-day versions, respectively. One problem. Ciaran Hinds looks like an older Martin Csokas, while Tom Wilkinson could pass for an older Sam Worthington. As such, the beginning of the movie is incredibly confusing. You are expecting Hinds to be Stephan, who is divorced from Rachel in modern times, but this is not the case.

the debt 1

I understand Tom Wilkinson is a legendary actor, but Hinds has been in his fair share of great movies too—Munich, Road to Perdition, There Will Be Blood. Maybe casting director Michelle Guish and director John Madden felt Hinds couldn’t carry the film—Stephan has a larger role later in life than David—but the physical similarities are too strong to ignore. It takes the viewer right out of the movie and is hard to overcome.

It is truly unfortunate, too, because the story is enthralling and suspenseful. The younger iterations of the agents are all excellent, especially Chastain. Her role here is similar to her Zero Dark Thirty character, but is more vulnerable and softer around the edges, despite her razor sharp jawline. This proves to be Guish’s casting victory, as Mirren and Chastain are similar in style and strength.

the debt 2

A slight switch in casting and The Debt could have been an excellent film. I don’t recall it receiving much buzz when it was out, but that seems to play into its subtle fortitude. I’d suggest giving it a go. The structure and storytelling are well managed here and The Debt doesn’t overstay its welcome.

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