The Debt is a film originally set for release in late 2010 based on a 2007 Israeli film by Assaf Bernstein of the same name. Directed by John Madden and written by Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan, it stars Helen Mirren as Rachel Singer, a former Mossad agent set in the late 1990s whose daughter Sarah (Romi Aboulafia) has just written a book praising her heroic parents’ involvement with the abduction and assassination of a Nazi doctor, Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) who had conducted human experiments on Jewish prisoners in the Second World War.
Along with Rachel was Stefan (played by Tom Wilkinson and a young Stefan by Marton Csokas), Sarah’s father, and David (played by Ciarán Hinds and Sam Worthington playing a young David). Rachel was introduced to Stefan and David who had found Vogel after years of searching for him. They had come up with an elaborate plan to get him out of East Germany and into Israel where he could finally be punished for his crimes. They also had secured involvement from the American authorities to help once he was captured. However, the Americans backed out after their initial plan was foiled and the trio had no choice but to hold him captive in their rented flat.
Because she was seen by polizei (German police) while trying to smuggle Vogel through the Berlin Wall, Rachel had no choice but to remain in the flat in order to avoid the risk of being recognized and arrested. The three took turns watching Vogel while feeding and cleaning him as Vogel slowly broke them down bit by bit. Despite their actions and goal in mind, Rachel, Stefan and David made sure to treat Vogel as humanly as they could as to avoid sinking to his level. But Vogel is aware that even they have a breaking point and he hopes to use it to his advantage, even if just for the satisfaction of seeing them break mentally. In the process of holding Vogel prisoner, Rachel essentially becomes a prisoner herself by being confined to the flat. Her imprisonment goes far beyond and into the decades to follow as a secret the three share, they promise to share for the rest of their lives as well as the continual return to the choice she made between David and Stefan after the plot was completed.
Helen Mirren plays Rachel as a long-time troubled woman who has never been able to bury the memories of those days as an agent, even long after their goal has been reached. In each scene, there is a consistent feeling of dispair as if immediately under the surface there is the potential to have an entire lifetime of achievements unravel. Mirren captures this hopelessness and inability to fully take control of the situation beautifully. Other than Mirren being the film’s strongest point, the story being told makes this an attractive and gripping story. One of the weak points, however, is the ending. Potentially leaving things too complete for a film that embraces mystery to such an extent in the opening scenes and throughout a significant chunk of the storyline that answering too many questions seems like a crime in itself. But for such a strong story and great visuals, it’s nearly forgiven.