Helen Mirren leads a stellar cast in this cracking political thriller. Directed with crisp, confident strokes by John Madden (Shakespearein Love), it offers all the pleasures of tight plotting and international intrigue, but grounds them in conflicts that have been urgent for sixty years. The stakes here are life, death and the honour of a nation.
In 1997, three veterans of Israel’s secret service, the Mossad, return to a hero’s welcome. Rachel Singer (Mirren) is the lone woman. Her daughter has just written a book about the threesome’s most famous exploit: a 1965 operation that saw them hunt down and terminate a Nazi war criminal in East Berlin. The book brings the episode back into the spotlight, but the attention makes Rachel’s fellow agent David (Ciarán Hinds) uneasy. In one shocking scene, he takes a decisive action that suddenly puts the other agents at risk, and opens whole new questions.
Madden shifts briskly between these scenes and the time of the original assassination, when the young agents snuck into East Berlin to track down the war criminal. They aim to bring him back to justice in Israel, but the situation proves more volatile than planned. Still, the mission catapults them to hero status back home.
But, decades later, cracks appear in the official story. A man in Ukraine surfaces, claiming to be the target of their original mission, still alive and ready to talk. Although her spy days are long behind her, Rachel is pressed into service to complete the operation.
Madden allows his characters not just rough edges but hard ones. Worthington and rising star Jessica Chastain do wonderful work as the young David and Rachel. Tom Wilkinson is pure pleasure to watch as the ruthless spymaster. But it is Mirren, giving full range both to Rachel’s icy discipline and the conflicted emotions of a mother, who stands out. –TIFF
John Philip Madden (born 8 April 1949) is an English director of theatre, film, television, and radio.
Madden was educated at Clifton College. He was in the same house as friend and fellow director Roger Michell.He began his career in British independent films, and graduated from the University of Cambridge (Sidney Sussex) in 1970 with a B.A. in English literature. He started work in television including directing Prime Suspect 4 and episodes of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (ITV, 1984-1994) and Inspector Morse.
Perhaps his most notable achievement to date was directing Shakespeare in Love, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1998, and for which he was also nominated as Best Director; he lost to Steven Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan. The film also won the Silver Bear at the 49th Berlin International Film Festival.
Madden is also a Jury Member for the digital studio Filmaka, a platform for undiscovered filmmakers to show their work to industry professionals… read more
very solid acting from the established stars and the relative newcomers as well. the plot was quite believable and flowed smoothly and quickly and was punctuated by some unexpected turns. this film is not based on actual events. however, by the time the end credits started rolling, i definitely had the feeling i had experienced something that had actually occurred!!
Critics generally agree that, despite a round of strong performances, The Debt isn’t all it could have been.