Mossad Retiree Helen Mirren Can’t Escape Her Nazi-Catching Past in The Debt


A remake of the far more brisk 2007 Israeli film with a bullpen of aging stars, this rather old-fashioned espionage drama seems deftly engineered to please the middlebrow minions allergic to superheroes and vampires. It’s hardly a challenging film, though not for lack of strain, bouncing between 1997, when scar-faced Mossad agent Helen Mirren endures some autumnal glory in Tel Aviv, and 1965, when, embodied by a wispy Jessica Chastain, she joins a team (Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas) intent on kidnapping a famous Nazi butcher (Jesper Christensen) passing as an East Berlin gynecologist. The rhythms of The Debt are emphatic and obvious, but at least the Israeli cult of heroism gets a side-swipe fuck-you, and the loaded thought of vaginal exams administered by a Birkenau mutilator is exploited for everything it’s worth, especially when one exam explodes into a leg-lock fight to the near-death. The leading cast, strangely Jew-free, is all uncomplicated angst and brow-furrows, except for Worthington, who as always suggests a linebacker waiting for the whistle. Predictably, the holes in the narrative set us up for a twist or three, but, in balance, it’s a pleasure to be back in the wet alleys and spy-patrolled streets of the GDR, however vague they seem without ’60s black-and-white cinematography.