on 20 January 2013
This is a difficult movie to classify as it doesn't really fit into the normal tidy genre pigeon holes; it's not action though there's a fair amount of violence and plenty of tension, it's not really a thriller but there a smattering of intrigue and it's not a romance despite a certain amount of personal entanglement. It, however, definitely is not a comedy. The story focuses on the current life of three principle characters and their actions thirty years previously as Mossad Nazi hunters. The action cuts back and forth slickly between these two time periods as the capture of an infamous concentration camp `doctor' is planned and executed. The pace and tension are carefully managed to draw you into the lives of the protagonists as the lie that has been gnawing at their consciences but that has shaped their lives is gradually revealed. The cast are superb, and the assured direction & cinematography make for an absorbing and gripping experience. The ending is slightly predictable but is left nicely open ended - not very tidy but thought provoking nonetheless.
on 9 March 2012
I go to movies all the time while in release, one to two a week. Seeing Jessica Chastain in both The Help, and Tree of Life, made me decide to see The Debt.
Director John Madden directed Shakespeare in Love which won 7 Academy Awards including, Best Actress for Gwyneth Paltrow, and Best Supporting Actress for Judi Dench. He also directed Prime Suspect 3 starring both Helen Mirren and Ciaran Hinds, who both star in The Debt; and Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
The Debt parallels real events. Mossad agents abducted Eichmann in Argentina in 1961, tried him in Israel, and executed him. The notorious Dr Mengele, the butcher of Auschwitz fled to South America, narrowly escaping the Mossad in Argentina, fleeing to Paraguay, and then Brazil. Birkenau is known also as Auschwitz Birkenau. Twenty four surgeons experimented on human captives, often performing unnecessary surgical operations without anaesthetic.
In 1965, a rookie Mossad agent played by Jessica Chastain, crosses Checkpoint Charlie and joins two male agents in East Berlin, to identify and kidnap the notorious surgeon of Birkenau, now a gynaecologist. She must pose as a patient, and subject herself to the cold probings of her intimate place by the butcher, and take close up photos without arousing suspicion.
Photographs of his terrible deeds haunt her and fill her with apprehension and fear. Photographs of smiling babies adorn his waiting room wall. A man who once took life from the world, now charged with bringing life into the world.
Her legs in stirrups, vulnerable, afraid, he probes her intimate space with his instrument, as he asks probing questions, about her unfamiliar accent, about her mother, about how she found him. It's tense and gripping. He gives her sex advice, and injections which will help her become pregnant. Meanwhile her desire grows for the sensitive agent, but David though attracted is closed off, and a romantic triangle develops. Will the doctors advice pay off?
When the mission goes wrong, the three agents and their captive remain in the same house. He would rather escape than die, and rather die than face trial. He senses the weakness in the relationships of his captors, and in their psyches, and pushes them to their psychological limits. He says things you would not expect to hear in a movie. As tensions mount, the great psychodramatic moments of the movie unfold. It's strangely intimate. He pushes the mother button with Rachel, while she shaves him with a cutthroat razor, and tears stream down her porcelain cheeks. She goes to the bathroom to throw up. When David, the sensitive one replies to him, 'you are a monster,' you can see from his facial expression that he is getting off on it. He plays them off each other. She is with him but it's you she wants. He seems able to read her mind, to guess her real name, intuit her condition. Here the acting is simply amazing and totally absorbing.
The doctor succeeds in his goal. They return to Israel, with an invented truth, and a heavy secret. Thirty years later that secret will force Rachel out of retirement, so the real truth can remain unknown.
The Debt is part suspense, part thriller, part psychodrama, its parts stirred by three great acting performances.
Jessica Chastain as the lead is incredible, with a face crafted by the cinematic gods, one of the best new talents I have seen. I was totally wowed by her performance.
Jesper Christensen delivers an astounding performance as the doctor, perhaps I am supposed to feel shock and outrage, yet I found it gripping and strangely delicious to watch the psychological cat and mouse game between him and her.
Helen Mirren, shows a harder edge as the older Rachel, always a gripping presence.
I love movies with a heroic female protagonist. When plans go awry, she steps out of the shadows looking for a light, she ventures into the stirrups, and she fights. She feels the fear and does it anyway. She is an everywoman required to do dangerous things. Other movies with great female protagonists would be Black Book, and The Girl Who Played With Firemovies. I wish Hollywood would make make more movies like these. All these are European movies.
If you're like me and like psycho dramatic thrillers. I think you will love it, and I hope this was helpful.
This is an exciting drama which also manages to be much more moving than I had expected, and to raise some complex moral issues, rather than be simplistically pro-Mossad as I had feared.
Intense concentration is required to catch all the details and nuances, as the plot is revealed in brief, fast-moving scenes switching back and forth between the 1960s and the 1990s. It is hard to summarise the plot without giving away too much, as I think some previous reviewers may have tended to do.
Essentially, in the '60s, three driven young members of Mossad have been tasked to capture a notorious Nazi doctor,"the surgeon of Birkenau", now practising gynaecology, of all things, in an East Berlin hospital, and to bring him back for trial in Israel. Although there are some major hitches, the three claim to have managed to kill him and are feted as heroes for the next three decades. This accolade is of course questionable since the man has been denied a fair trial, which would have shown the Israelis to be morally superior to their oppressors.
It becomes apparent that the facts are not quite what they seem. The film becomes less of a righteous if fanatical Nazi hunt and more of a psychological drama - the relationship between the three agents, two men and a beautiful woman. The "leader" Stephan is ambitious, David is traumatised by the loss of his entire family, and Rachel also often appears too emotionally vulnerable for the task.
Under pressure, the trio begin to behave in often all too understandably flawed and "human" ways. We see how the captured Doctor Vogel plays on this. I disagree that he comes across as "too nice" because he seems to love his wife: in his lack of real remorse for past crimes, his crude anti-semitism and his ability to manipulate and goad his youthful captors, he is particularly chilling and sinister.
There is also plenty of scope to debate the three agents' various motives for their actions, which cover a wide range: fear, altruism, ambition, personal advantage, to maintain status and the love of others, or simple pragmatism. How should they have behaved at each stage? How would we?
Although some plot details do not hold water when you think about them afterwards, I do not agree that the film tries to cover too much. The complexity seems to me to add to its value and effectiveness. I also do not feel that it loses its way at the end when the fifty-something Rachel sets off for the Ukraine to honour "a debt" and conclude unfinished business. The end of the film is not what you would expect, and leaves matters slightly open for you to draw your own conclusions, which is often the mark of a good film.
For me, this was one of those rare films that holds the viewer throughout because of the quality of its construction, the storyline and the acting.
It concerns a three person team from Mossad sent to East Berlin in the mid-1960's to investigate the indentity of a local doctor. Is he the infamous 'Surgeon of Birkenau' responsible for experimenting upon and causing the death of many thouands of people?
The team's mission, is to identify him and to abduct and take him out of East Berlin to Israel. The film opens thirty years later with the three team members reflecting back upon the events that occurred. The plot cannot be elaborated much without spoilers, but suffice it to say the drama that ensues is gripping and thought provoking, raising issues of personal responsibility, duty to self, family and coutry, and guilt, as well as others.
The acting was top quality, with excellent performances by the different actors playing the three main characters thirty years apart, including Dame Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Sam Worthington.
One of the most memorable films I have seen for a good while. Highly recommended.
This film is actually a remake; the original version an Israeli production in Hebrew available with English subtitles.
The Debt is cut into two time-periods (1966 & 1997) so there are 6 actors playing three characters. David is played by Sam Worthington ('66) & Ciarán Hinds ('97), Stefan is played by Martin Csokas ('66) & Tom Wilkinson ('97) and Rachel is played by Jessica Chastain ('66) and Helen Mirren ('97). Their mission in 1966 was to bring a Nazi war criminal to justice - The Surgeon of Birkenau - who practised obscene operations on Jewish victims. Mossad dispatch the trio to East Berlin to capture the doctor who is now posing as a gynaecologist. When the exfiltration plan goes awry, they are forced to improvise and this causes a lie between them that is still prevalent 30 years later. Rachel's daughter has even written a book, that reunites the three in the present, based on the truth according to Mossad but the trio know what really happened. As the story is retold in a series of flashbacks we learn what really happened and the effect the lie has had on them all. When a chance to avenge this lie and to finally make it the truth presents itself, the trio feel they must act to clear this debt.
Any film based on an Israeli telling of a Nazi war-criminal is going to be heated in it's reception, so I am going to endeavour to stay out of the who is right and wrong and focus on the merits of this film as a piece of cinematic fiction. The interplay between the agents is believable and the younger trio hold their parts well. Worthington plays the same emotionless robot he always does, but I wasn't expecting much more, whilst the film is held up by the tempestuous and vivacious Martin Csokas's acting. Jessica Chastain is truly beautiful and sight to behold but doesn't really bring any empathy for her character as she is shown as weak & incapable.
Extras: A feature length commentary from director Madden & Thykier. Other extras are a trio of very brief promotional featurettes titled "A Look Inside The Debt," "Every Secret Has a Price: Helen Mirren in the Debt," and "The Berlin Affair: The Triangle at the Center of The Debt"
The elder trio have much more scope, instilling empathy for their twisted subsequent lives. One thing that really annoyed me was the choice of actors for the older triumvirate that look nothing like their younger selves. Worthington/Hinds was a ridiculous stretch; I had to make a mental note that they were meant to be the same character, it's that bad!! This casting issue aside this is a solid film that has its dramatic moments, but is very slow in parts. The story and morals are tenuous and left something to be desired but it's not a bad effort weighing in at a faily hefty 113 minutes.
A young woman has written a book about her brave parents who captured and killed a Nazi war criminal. The details of the tale could have only come from her parents, which contradicts reality. The movie reminded me of my dad who told us kids WWII stories. Dad was stationed on a converted aircraft carrier which cruised off the coast of North Carolina. He never saw any action...but we heard stories about how his vessel (USS Solomon) captured a U-boat and how he worked on Ted Williams' airplane. There was a U-boat captured, but not by his ship and he did work on planes similar to that of Ted Williams. My sister believed every word and wrote a paper on WWII for her class based on my dad's inaccuracies. The teacher was a WWII buff and we then discovered dad was a BS artist. Imagine writing a book based on stories your parents tell you and selling it to the world!
Helen Mirren is a great actress and basically if she is in it, I am willing to watch it. The story of the killing, as related in the book is fairly simple. The Nazi was captured and tied up. He got loose, attacked Rachel Singer (Helen), gave her a facial scar and fled. As she was laying there in her own blood, she manages to pull out a small hand gun and shoot the fleeing Nazi in the back, from a considerable distance in my opinion, and kill him. But is that how it happened? That is what the movie is about. Jessica Chastain plays the young Rachel Singer as she teams up in Berlin with Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas to bring the evil Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) to justice. As it turns out Dieter is now a gynecologist, so guess which of the three spies stages visits with him?
The film moves slow in many scenes. Helen Mirren is her classy self. I thought Jessica Chastain did an excellent job in her role which got better as the movie progressed. Marton Csokas has a good scene toward the end of the film and Sam Worthington should stick to Avatar. You want to watch the film to see how things play out...which is to say I liked how things progressed but I wasn't overly pleased with the ending. 4 1/2 stars
F-bomb, no nudity.
If you are expecting a spy movie or even a shoot-em-up. You will be disappointed. It is a low-key physiological thriller about lying and its consequences.
The story for the most part is mediocre and contrived. There are the standard plots and twists and turns almost on queue. You usually have to see something the second time to see however they set you up for what is coming. Not this film as they are right up front. Great visuals. Not too much overwhelming background music. The Music do a little too much thumping during the "prepare you for the surprise scenes". The acting was up to par with all the actors even if Helen took center stage.
on 16 July 2012
This could have been a five star film. The story, direction, sets, locations etc are all good and the performances are superb (special mention to the Scandinavian actor playing the evil doctor who almost steals the show!)The only area that the film falls down a little bit is at the end. Although the last part of the film is gripping and exciting (as is the film generally), it is not as clearly resolved as it could have been and to a certain extent you have to fill-in a few minor holes in the plot by making your own assumptions. Still it's one of the best I've seen this year.
Special agents 'Rachel'(Helen Miiren) 'Stefan'(Tom Wilkinson) and 'David'(Ciaran Hinds) track down 'Nazi' war criminal 'Vogel'(Jesper Christensen) who was responsible for the death of thousands of Jews during W.W.2.
The three are let down by the Americans who had promised to take 'Vogel' to 'Israel' for trial, the prisoner is held for some time,however during 'Rachel's 'watch' he attempts to escape.
The three agents have covered-up the truth for thirty years hoping he'll never re-surface to destroy the lie the three have kept secret all this time..............however----
'Vogel' is identified as alive in the 'Ukraine' he's a patient in a hospital, now, one of the three must complete the task that had supposedly been completed long ago, before still being alive exposes the former agents.
This is a superior thriller that should not be missed..
on 4 April 2012
This is not an easy thriller but a thoughtful mystery about a sensitive issue - Israeli agents tracking a Nazi war criminal to bring back to justice and what happens when things go wrong and the consequences of people's actions. The script is excellent, the twists are surprising and the acting top rate. it should have been an Academy Award nomination and could easily have won in several categories - film (the artist was charming but......), screenplay (Midnight in Paris?? please! a student film). check it out. Lots of interesting ideas are brought up by it.