By S. Jhoanna Robledo,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
A secret's consequences play out in intense spy film.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The main take away is about honesty: While a lie might sometimes seem like the easiest way out, in the long run, the truth always wants to come out, and carrying the burden of a lie can be harder than revealing the most difficult secrets.
Positive Role Models
Rachel, Stephan, and David all make enormous sacrifices for their country during a covert mission. They must make difficult ethical decisions as they tread the thin line between spy and murderer. And they all must live, for decades, with the terrible secret of what happened during the operation.
Violence & Scariness
Several intense fight scenes are brutal and desperate, showing people who truly seem to be fighting for their lives with whatever weapon might be at hand. Some of these encounters feature young, fit agents, while others involve people in their 60s, but they're all bloody and powerful.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A couple is shown in bed (no nudity), presumably the morning after they 've slept together. A towel-clad woman steps out of the bathroom, with men watching her.
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Some swearing, including "s--t" and multiple uses of "f--k."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Some social drinking and period-accurate smoking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this intense spy thriller, which jumps between the late 1960s and the late 1990s, centers on a trio of agents who -- despite being celebrated as heroes -- share a dark secret about a covert mission. Expect several fight scenes that are brutish, bloody, and realistic; you really feel like the characters are fighting for their lives. There's also some swearing (including "f--k") and drinking, and several characters smoke cigarettes (accurate for the '60s setting).
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Where to Watch
Based on 5 parent reviews
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What's the Story?
Idealistic and committed, young Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain), a junior agent in the Mossad, is given a challenging assignment: Help catch former Nazi Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), the so-called "Butcher of Birkenau," who conducted brutal experiments on prisoners and carried out Hitler's grim and grotesque final solution. It turns out Vogel is hiding out in plain sight in East Berlin as a gynecologist -- so, posing as the wife of David (Sam Worthington), who's undercover as a chemist, Rachel becomes Vogel's patient, collecting crucial information for team leader Stephan (Marton Csokas). Soon, a plan to abduct Vogel and bring him to justice in Israel is solidified, but it all goes awry, leaving the three with Vogel on their hands and no clear path to follow. Within weeks, they go home as heroes ... but the truth has a way of revealing itself. A generation later, Rachel (now played by Helen Mirren) is a legend with a book about her involvement in the triumphant capture of Vogel just published, Stephan (Tom Wilkinson) has risen through the ranks, and David (Ciaran Hinds) is still deeply haunted by their past.
Is It Any Good?
THE DEBT isn't a perfect movie. The plot is leaky, with a central event -- the botching of a carefully laid-out plan -- left fuzzy around the edges. A supremely intriguing romantic triangle is also told in overly broad strokes, leaving so much potential by the wayside. Yet, The Debt is still a masterful film that recalls the suspense and intelligence of decades-old thrillers (the original Taking of Pelham 123, The French Connection, and Dog Day Afternoon, to name a few).
It relies on the basics: a smart (holes aside) script, sharp actors, taut pacing, the works. (Mirren is as flawless as ever, but it's Chastain who stands out, exuding gravity, melancholy, and determination, sometimes all at once.) Plus it has an emotional core that compels the audience to watch and care: What will happen to these three? What did happen after all?
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about secrets and lies. Is there ever an appropriate time to lie? What are the consequences of hiding the truth -- both in real life and in this movie?
How does the violence in this movie compare to that in other action thrillers? Does it have more or less impact than bigger, showier, explosion-type violence?
How does this movie portray spies? Is it typical to see older actors playing agents? How does this compare to other spy movies/TV shows you've seen?
- In theaters: August 31, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: December 6, 2011
- Cast: Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Tom Wilkinson
- Director: John Madden
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some violence and language
- Last updated: June 2, 2023
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