John Madden (the director, not the famed football coach) has been around for a while, but cme into his own 13 years ago with "Shakespeare in Love" with Gwyneth Paltrow and Judy Dench walking away with Oscars for acting and the film walking away with 7 Oscars total - though directing wasn't one of them.


The school of thought was probably that with a cast as strong as that, anyone could have directed a masterpiece. That said, he has since work with stellar talent in three films since - "Captain Corelli's Mandolin", "Proof" and "Killshot" - which went mostly unnoticed. "Proof" was glanced at, but still floundered.


As you already know, in Hollywood, it's not what have you done, but what have you done lately. So money is hard to get for Madden, especially since he likes working with true actors and not just box office draws. Which brings us up to his latest feature - one that will surely get noticed - "The Debt" with Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Wilkerson and others.

This film has been in the can for over a year; it was originally to be released last year at this time but sat for some reason. It's a bet that Worthington was cheap to get because of big paydays from "Avatar", "Clash of the Titans" and "terminator Salvation". Mirren, Hinds and Wilkerson have never been too expensive as they work more for the craft than the big payday.


So we have Madden with another stellar cast in a film about Nazi hunters. And boy is it good!


Mirren, Hinds and Wilkerson play retired Mossad (Israeli spies) agents Rachel, David and Stephan who have been basking in the glory of a mission they conducted to capture a Nazi war criminal back in 1966 during the Cold War. Rachel's daughter has even written a book about her mother and is touring with her to discuss the daring feat.


That is until an unexpected surprise pops up causing one of the three former agents to commit suicide and to give the other cause to panic. Only one thing does that...the truth.

Now we get flashbacks to the event as told by Rachel's daughter with Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Marton Csokas playing the younger versions of Rachel, David and Stephan.


We are transported back to 1966 Berlin, with the Cold War at its height and the three Israeli spies on a mission to capture, but not kill war criminal Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) who was a notorious Nazi doctor who was charged with conducting all kinds of inhumane experiments on Jews.


But as they grab him from behind the Berlin Wall, things go terribly wrong and they can't immediately escape. So they are forced to sit and wait until the heat dies down.


But this proves to be a miscalculation as Dieter is a master of mind control and begins to toy with them one at a time beginning with Rachel. We are treated to a Hanibal Lecter type of mind game from Dieter and sterling performances by Chastain and Csokas. It goes without a doubt that Mirren and Wilkerson were up to their roles. However, Hinds is a complete waste of talent, with absolutely no clear reason - looks or otherwise - for him to play the older David. Worthington, on the other hand, holds his own with like talent - the younger cast - although he doesn't stand out.


"The Debt" is a taut nail-biter in the fashion of some of the best Cold War thrillers made. The miscasting of Hinds (though I enjoyed his opening moment) is the only drawback as we roll headlong into the season for serious films.   -- GEOFF BURTON