Andy Bockelman: ‘The Debt’ a taut tale of long-kept secrets | CraigDailyPress.com

Andy Bockelman: ‘The Debt’ a taut tale of long-kept secrets

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

After a summer season filled with non-stop movement and idiotic dialogue to accompany it, it's refreshing to see a movie that doesn't need to be hyperkinetic and loud.

Such is the case of "The Debt," a film that can convert stillness and silence into genuine thrills handily.

In 1965, Israeli Mossad agent Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain) and colleagues David Peretz (Sam Worthington) and Stephan Gold (Marton Csokas) are tasked by their government to track down and apprehend Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen). Vogel, a doctor whose experiments on Jewish subjects for the Nazis earned him the title "The Surgeon of Birkenau," is living in East Berlin under an assumed name and free of the justice he deserves.

While the mission doesn't go exactly according to plan, the three operatives are welcomed home as national heroes. Decades later, a retired Rachel (Helen Mirren) receives an unwelcome bit of news from Stephan (Tom Wilkinson), now her ex-husband, that some unforeseen consequences of their actions have come to light.

With so much at stake, it's up to Rachel to settle the score, not only for her country but for herself and her family.

It's never been hard to buy Mirren as a tough-as-nails type, and her stalwart persona is just as believable here. A sizable facial scar from her most famous job is just one indication that Rachel is not to be trifled with, but her tense, tight-lipped behavior only adds to that.

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Up-and-comer Chastain, coming off magnificent showings in "The Tree of Life" and "The Help," is solid as a younger Rachel, just as capable but not nearly as confident, especially when facing a war criminal posing as a gynecologist. Christensen exudes pure evil as Holocaust scientist Vogel — sinister enough when he's incognito as a supposedly kind-hearted physician but terrifying when he is confined and starts letting loose with anti-Semitic epithets, playing mind games with his captors.

"Avatar" star Worthington, usually so stunted in his emotional displays, gives one of his most passionate performances as David, who has a personal investment in taking in Vogel for trial but soon finds himself fighting more with superior officer Stephan as the two each seek Rachel's affections. Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds are excellent in small segments as older Stephan and David, who are both still troubled by their previous work and the results they now face.

The noticeable lack of major actors with Hebrew ancestry may put some off this remake of the 2007 Israeli movie "Ha Hov." But, with the top-notch cast assembled here, there's little cause for concern.

The concept of Jewish vengeance films has been a growing one, with movies like "Munich" and "Inglourious Basterds" leading the charge. There's more of that feel than there is of older features such as "Marathon Man," "The Boys from Brazil" or "Judgment at Nuremberg," with the emphasis placed on quick, brutal action spread out over the course of more than 30 years.

The hero worship of Rachel's daughter (Romi Aboulafia) and Rachel's own inability to cope with her past only further demonstrates how younger generations simply can't fathom what kind of ordeals their parents faced, especially when they become the stuff of legend. That combined with the modern-day repercussions of the trio's assignment makes for a potentially devastating bombshell for Rachel on a personal level and keeps things at the highest level of suspense.

Smart, swift and powerful, "The Debt" is certain to keep viewers perched on the edge of their seats. The solemnity of everything going on might be too much to take, but with the lighter fare of summer fading away, so must come the heavy material of the fall and winter.

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“The Debt”

3 out of 4 stars

113 minutes

Starring: Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington and Tom Wilkinson

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