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THE DEBT Review: A Well-Crafted And Enjoyable Thriller

The Debt is a refreshingly old-fashioned and enjoyable thriller, directed with intensity by John Madden and featuring an excellent cast who make the complex narrative believable

rating: 3.5/5

There€™s a little film doing the rounds at the moment that you might of heard of€.. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. While that film continues to win critical acclaim and draw in huge audiences, there€™s another good movie released today that also deals with similar themes of paranoia, conspiracy and deceit. The Debt isn€™t quite as meticulous or contemplative as Tinker Tailor, but if that film left you feeling a little cold, The Debt offers a similarly intricate and well-crafted thriller which is far more traditional but doesn€™t take its audience for granted. Jumping between events taking place in 1966 and then the aftermath in 1997, the cleverly constructed narrative is centered around an operation to capture a Nazi war criminal nicknamed €œThe Surgeon of Birkenau€. Three agents are tasked to extradite the man responsible for conducting inhuman experiments on Jewsish prisoners; Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain), David Peretz (Sam Worthington) and Stefan Gold (Marton Csokas). The difficult operation has Rachel becoming closely intimate to the target - Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) - most notably in a number of uncomfortable sequences in which Rachel plants herself into a gynaecology clinic in which Vogel now performs surgery. This forced and unavoidable closeness to the target, and growing conflict within the group begins to take its toll on the operation. While The Debt puts most of its focus into this intriguing 60s espionage, part of its charm is the way in which it jumps forwards to show us the aftermath of the operation. The same characters are played by different actors, with Helen Mirren as Rachel and Ciarán Hinds and Tom Wilkinson as David and Stephan. Both sets of actors are remarkable in their roles, and although it€™s a little hard to swallow the changing looks, it€™s not hard to believe that these are the same characters. Something that did strike me was that the lead billing of its older protagonists is perhaps a little misleading. While Mirren, Wilkinson and Hinds are all excellent, it€™s the younger cast portraying the 1960s agents who make the biggest impression. Chastain and her fellow actors do a marvellous job of depicting the angst and emotional weight of their challenging operation. I was especially surprised by Sam Worthington, who has up to this point left me unimpressed with his wooden performances in Avatar and Terminator Salvation. Most memorable however is Jesper Christensen as the despicable war criminal and infamous Surgeon of Birkenau. Before we meet the character we are shown horrific photos - which looked distressingly real - quickly establishing the evil that the man is capable of. It€™s therefore interesting that the film presents him in a caring role - but even while putting on a kind persona, there€™s a quiet intensity and disturbing nature to his performance. I was especially surprised and pleased to see that the film is co-scripted by Jane Goldman & Mathew Vaughn, known for their work on films like Kick-Ass and X Men: First Class. With its slow pace and sophisticated plotting, The Debt is an obvious departure from these films but is just as thrilling when it needs to be. There€™s some great twists and surprising turns, and it€™s frequently suspenseful - such as a great sequence at a train station and some nice touches like the drips from a leaking ceiling being used to signal nearby danger. The Debt is a refreshingly old-fashioned and enjoyable thriller, directed with intensity by John Madden and featuring an excellent cast who make the complex narrative believable. It does suffer from a somewhat implausible final act and isn€™t always as exciting as it could be, but if you're looking for an intelligent thriller which keeps you on the edge of your seat and raises some interesting questions, The Debt comes well recommended. The Debt is released in U.K cinemas today
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Cult horror enthusiast and obsessive videogame fanatic. Stephen considers Jaws to be the single greatest film of all-time and is still pining over the demise of Sega's Dreamcast. As well regularly writing articles for WhatCulture, Stephen also contributes reviews and features to Ginx TV.