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The Debt

Year: 2010
Production Co: Miramax Pictures
Studio: Focus Features
Director: John Madden
Producer: Matthew Vaughan
Writer: Matthew Vaughan/Jane Goldman/Peter Straughan
Cast: Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Cirián Hinds, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Marton Csokas, Jesper Christensen

This film has three elements the award circuits usually love, so I'm surprised it didn't stir up more of a name for itself. It was about Nazis and Jews, it had a rock solid A list cast and a strongly emotional hook in the central conundrum faced by the older versions of the characters. When it was all over it hadn't even really made a real lot of money.

In the mid sixties, three young Mossad agents Rachel (Chastain), David (Worthington) and Stephan (Csokas) are given the task of infiltrating East Berlin and apprehending Nazi war criminal Vogel (Christensen). After they groom him for capture and then nab him, they take him to a dingy apartment to wait for the authorities to take him off their hands or tell them what to do with him.

But thanks to diplomatic wrangling at home, they're stuck baby sitting Vogel for weeks while he works his way into their minds, exploiting their fears, loneliness and the shifting romantic relationship Rachel shares with both men.

With their guard down, Vogel makes a break and escapes into the night and the three make a shame-faced pact – to the rest of the world for the rest of their lives, the story will be that they killed Vogel trying to escape.

But at the beginning of the film (thanks to the narrative structure that sees the story jump back and forward in time), the secret has wrought more of a toll on them than they believe, with the older David (Hinds) throwing himself under a bus.

It eventuates that he's been to see Rachel (Mirren) not long before while she's wrapped up in the launch of a book about the mission by her adoring daughter – one that's completely wrong as a consequence of their lie and makes Rachel feel no better. David explained that he'd spent the previous 30 years searching for Vogel so they could finish what they started and clear their consciences, but now Rachel's being hailed as a hero by her family, the last thing she and Stephan (Wilkinson) want is for the truth to emerge.

But it's ready to come out as Vogel is found in a hospital in the Ukraine where they finally have the chance to finish what they started.

It's a very competent blending of story and emotion – the characters are all given hearts and desires that let them grow and develop and give you enough to buy into their plight and there's a good 60s spy movie aesthetic that gives the film the thrills to balance the drama out.

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