Friday, July 5, 2013

The Debt ~ a Review

The Debt - Sam Worthington | A Constantly Racing Mind

Sometimes when you work hard and plan, and plan and practice to perfect an operation, the best - laid plans do not go as planned. That is the case to the characters in John Madden's ("Shakespeare in Love," "Proof") English version of "The Debt." Assaf Bernstein, Ido Rosenblum wrote and directed an Israeli version back in 2007. Madden, working with film veterans Helen Mirren ("The Queen," "Red") and Tom Wilkinson ("Michael Clayton," "The Patriot") put together a suspense thriller that takes places in two different decades about a group of people who made a mistake and for over 30 plus years have lived with that mistake. In addition, like a former President of the United States covered up a mistake with a lie. Evenly paced and told in two different times - periods, the mid 1960s and in the late 1990s. As young Mossad agents sent to Berlin to capture a former Nazi doctor and bring him to justice. If you like suspense and good solid acting then you will enjoy "The Debt." 

In 1997 Sarah Gold, the daughter of former Mossad agent Rachel Singer (Mirren) has written a book about her mother, her father and their partner who in the 1960s, while in their mid to late 20s were operatives in a mission to bring the Nazis to justice. National heroes, their story was now being told for all to hear. A problem arises as the time for the book's debut arrives, hoping to have all three of the original spies attend her daughters book release, the third member of the team, David Peretz (Ciarán Hinds), suddenly walks in front of a bus and is killed instantly. As the story unfolds and as we jump from the late 90s back to the mid-60s, we discover details of that mission so many years ago. Playing the three spies in their youth is Jessica Chastain ("The Tree of Life," "The Help") as Rachel Singer on her first mission in the field. Sam Worthington plays Peretz, idealistic and acts as Rachel's husband during the operation. Stephan Gold is the leader; Marton Csokas ("The Bourne Supremacy," "Æon Flux") plays the oldest of the three, who turns 29 during the beginning of the mission. During the war, Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) was known as Surgeon of Birkenau. Like Mengele, Vogel did gruesome experiments on prisoners. Now a practicing physician under the name of Bernhardt in the city of Berlin, the group's job is to capture him, and smuggle him out of the country and back to Israel to be tried in world court for crimes against humanity. 

The Debt - Jessica Chastain | A Constantly Racing Mind
Each of the characters played by both sets of actors give off a sense of weight and share the burden of guilt for their sin. During the flashbacks between "the present" and the time of their mission, we see how they bonded, how they trained, how they lived, and how they decided together to lie when Vogel escapes from their custody. We see how Rachel and David are attracted to each other, and ultimately how Stephan takes control of the situation, and of Rachel. Knowing that Vogel will not dare resurface the three concoct a story where Rachel is the hero by killing Vogel as he tried to escape. Returning to Israel with their story of heroism the three lived out their lives dealing with the guilt in their own ways. David, the quiet one, internalized the guilt, it ate away at him, debilitating him, and in the end, he decided to commit suicide. Stephan continued his career with Mossad, even after a bomber blew off his legs. It is he who convinces Rachel that after all these years later, that she must step forward and become the hero she never really was. Helen Mirren gives a fantastic performance as a woman whose daughter is proud of her for the wrong reasons. Wilkinson shows the drive and determination as the elderly spy that Csokas displays with intensity as a young man in charge of an important mission. Jessica Chastain plays the younger Mirren who is scared, determined, and at the same time brave. Sam Worthington shines as the sensitive and quiet member of the team, whos parents were killed in the concentration camps. You see the sadness in his eyes and you believe him as a survivor. Ciarán Hinds ("Lara Croft Tomb Raider:" "The Cradle of Life") looks haggard, and worn from the years of knowing the truth and not being able to be free of the lie. Director Madden and Editor Alexander Berner cut the film together with short scenes to keep the pace moving. Slowing from time to time for the audience to catch some details, Madden focuses on subtle details giving us some clues in order to keep us on our toes. Berner's cutting between the different times was done well, without leaving the audience dazed and confused. 

I must say that when it comes to playing a Nazi, Jesper Christensen does an excellent job, portraying Vogel as Olivier did as Szell in "Marathon Man" (1976). Like Michael Myers, or Jason Voorhees, Christensen keeps coming back like a bad penny. Ultimately, we all pay for our sins. History is written by the winners, however, eventually, there comes a day when we can't hide from the things that we've done. "The Debt" is about atonement, and about freeing yourself from your sins. 

I think you will enjoy the 113 minutes (1 hour and 53 minutes) you spend watching "The Debt" is well worth your time. The MPAA rates the film R, but the violence and sex are at a minimum. What is at the maximum is good suspense, good acting, and a good story.

Movie Data

Genre:  Drama, Thriller
Year:  2010
Staring: Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds,  Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, Sam Worthington
Director: John Madden
Producer(s): Eitan Evan, Eduardo Rossoff , Kris Thykier, Matthew Vaughn
Writer: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman, Peter Straughan, Assaf Bernstein, Ido Rosenblum
Rating: R
Release Date: 8/21/2011
Running Time: 113 minutes

Originally posted on Yahoo Voices on 1/26/2012

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