You's about to get whacked son.
Right first thing's first. It's 2011. 2011. So if we all collectively trigger the maths-like portion of our brains and figure out that 2011 is 66 years after 1945. And lets assume that to be a high-ranking nazi official you'd need to be at least 30. To be one of the guys at the absolute top of the chain. That puts even the youngest, youthful Nazi at the he probably would be dead age. All of this to say that having a Nazi as your villain in this day and age is not only sort of hackneyed, but very soon will be completely implausible. I get the attraction. The Nazi regime is the serial killer of mass-murdering empires. Whilst others did it for such understandable reasons as money, materials and status, The Nazis were crazy, and killed for reasons of crazy. It makes them the ideal villains for movies that want villainy to be a shorthand. This guy is bad. Why? Because he's a Nazi. Next question.
I don't want to be too harsh on The Debt, it contains a number of good performances and manages to be a strong thriller, building it's suspense out of moral quandary and character. Yet a lot doesn't work about it, and it contains a flashback structure that seems to exist for the sole reason of because it's what films like this usually do, and it's worked out pretty well so far. But it's lazy, and while Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds are all great actors, I'm not convinced these scenes really added anything to the film other than something to cut to. The thrust of the narrative is the 60's stuff, in part because of the great performances by some of the lesser known talent here. Jessica Chastain, who's had somewhat of a career explosion in 2011, is the best I've ever sen her as the young Helen Mirren. Similarly Marton Csokas, who has has been at the fringes of big movies for a while now, definitely makes his mark in this film, seizing the bigger role with aplomb. Sam Worthington is predictably the weak link, but he's not distractingly bad.
But the problems with the present day scenes is that they seemed to exist to comment on what had happened in the past as opposed to any kind of resonance in and of themselves, and as a result you are just waiting to get back to Chastain and Csokas. I did like how mostly incompetent our three leads were as spies, as so much of what went on seemed to emerge out of their inexperience at their jobs. Too often films tend to lionize spies as infallible, and I liked that these ones could both be credible, and yet capable of making a mistake. The film tails off pretty terribly though, finishing about 40 minutes before it actually finishes and losing a lot of the tension and atmosphere it has built up in the process.
Ultimately though it feels like one of those films that struggles too hard to convince you it's better than it is, and that just stops it from being as good as it could be. The premise is a little hacky, but I think a tight, complex thriller could have been made here, but instead we get a flabby concoction that whilst containing elements of that better film, is just carrying too much superfluous baggage to ever really capitalize on it's strengths. Still, worse movies out there for real.