Friday 7 October 2011

The Debt (2011) - John Madden

The Debt is a film that demonstrates the power of cinema as a storytelling medium.  The well-worn and rather predictable plot is elevated by the editing, cleverly juxtaposing time frames as the narrative unfolds.

Time is integral to the plot - it neither heals nor allows us to forget.  Instead, it emphasises how one moment and one decision can change the course of life irrevocably.  Though on the surface an espionage thriller, at its heart The Debt is a love story between three Mossad spies on a secret vengeance mission - their target the Nazi war criminal and infamous "Surgeon of Birkenau" who performed medical experiments on jews; the titular debt thus owing to the spies' jewish kin.  The dual narrative depicts the spies during their mission in 1966 and the aftermath in 1997.  But rather than relay to the audience in chronological sequence, the parallel plots are cleverly interwoven, revealing the effects of one on the other.  It also, through flashback, gives us insight into the psyche of the three protagonists, Rachel Singer in particular - played wonderfully by Jessica Chastain and leaving her elder counterpart, Helen Mirren, trailing behind. 

The various twists and turns are easily predicted and the final third feels a little preposterous, leaving many unanswered questions.  Yet the employment of an intricate narrative framework and astute editing provide a compelling and chilling piece of storytelling - something only cinema can provide.