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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Spies, lies slowly unravel after 30 years in hiding

Ciaran Hinds and Helen Mirren look on in The Debt. Because the story is told in two time periods, they lend their characters to Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain for half the film. Photo courtesy Miramax Films
Ciaran Hinds and Helen Mirren look on in The Debt. Because the story is told in two time periods, they lend their characters to Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain for half the film. Photo courtesy Miramax Films

By Joshua Knopp/managing editor

Spies lie. Why can’t spy movies?

The Debt combines an adaptation of a 2007 Israeli film’s script with a high-octane English cast. Told in two different time periods, the film follows an elite Mossad team in both 1966 (Marton Csokas, Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain) as they try to apprehend an infamous Nazi geneticist (Jesper Christensen) and in 1997 (Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds and Helen Mirren) as they try to maintain a secret that has bound them together through the 30-year time skip.

The movie is wrapped up tight. All scenes are revisited at least once. It feels like the story repeats, but because of the way the timeline is structured, each repetition reveals more context about the last. A handful of key shots appear twice in the movie but have completely different meanings. 

Ciaran Hinds and Helen Mirren look on in The Debt. Because the story is told in two time periods, they lend their characters to Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain for half the film. Photo courtesy Miramax Films
Ciaran Hinds and Helen Mirren look on in The Debt. Because the story is told in two time periods, they lend their characters to Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain for half the film. Photo courtesy Miramax Films

The self-reflexivity is made possible by three literary constructs, with the first being the broken timeline itself. Because everything is out of order, audiences are forced to piece together the lives of the three main characters with bits of information at a time. Were the film shot chronologically, everything would be obvious and a little boring.

The second is a love triangle. Chastain turns the mission inside out when she comes to stay with Csokas and Worthington, who have been on the job for two years. The Debt is able to clearly separate love and sex, and, through its timeline fracture, extends the drama through the length of the film.

The third is a plot that would twist sharply even if it had been displayed chronologically. Instead of all-too-revealing double entendres and shots that focus a little too long on an ominous face, the characters act out a bold-faced lie through the first hour and a half of film.

The big-ticket actors deliver in a big-ticket way. Mirren shines in what is arguably the lead role, and Chastain is only a little less bright as her younger self. Even Worthington, who hasn’t demonstrated talent at any previous point in his career, acquits himself well.

While The Debt doesn’t jump out and grab audiences like a truly perfect film, it’s difficult to find flaws.

Final take: A brilliantly penned spy film with an all-star cast

Those who would enjoy it: Helen Mirren fans, acute observers

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