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Stuck for a film to watch the other night, we settled on The Debt. I wasn't particular enthralled about the idea of watching it, but only because the short synopsis on Sky made it sound quite dull, but I gave in and agreed as it starred Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington, and figured it would be worth a watch.
Starting in Tel Aviv in 1997, we are introduced to Rachel Singer (Mirren) at the book launch of her daughter who has written about her mother's involvement in the capture of 'The Surgeon of Birkenau' along with two other agents. The 'Surgeon' was (although is fictional) a Nazi war criminal who was accused of horrifically experimenting on babies and Jews during the war. While working undercover the agents become close as Rachel (the younger Rachel played by Jessica Chastain), must pretend to be married to David Peretz (Sam Worthington in the 60's, Ciarán Hinds in 1997). At great personal risk to herself, Rachel gets close to the Surgeon who is working as a gynaecologist in a clinic, in order that they can create a plan to capture him.
I don't really want to explain anymore of the synopsis as I feel by doing so would give away quite a lot of the film, but the film runs partly in the 60's and partly in 1997, but there is a reason for this, and it does carry the film and allow for tension to mount.
The 'tell all' book that Rachel's daughter releases is the main part of the film, and there is obviously more to it which is evident from the very beginning as Rachel comes across as troubled and moody. Mirren was the right woman for the film, as were all the cast. They worked together well and portrayed the story as believable (I actually googled 'The Surgeon of Birkenau' after watching the film as I half expected it to be based on a real person, but it wasn't).
I found the storyline bitty and while not overly complex it didn't seem to flow correctly, which I think may be portrayed in my break down of the synopsis. In places it was difficult to follow and while the storyline wasn't particularly difficult to follow, I did in places not understand what was happening. Action is there at times, but it is more of a suspense film than anything. The difficult situations that the trio put themselves in, in order to try and capture the surgeon is definitely tense, and this carries right through to the end.
There are parts of the film which came as a surprise, although one particular event which relates to one of the three characters was unnecessary.
It does ask some serious questions, and did get me thinking about various issues relating to the war, but it doesn't overly bombard you with politics. It didn't particularly need the love part that seems to some as a standard for nearly every film ever made, which drives me slightly insane! I did find this part of the film quite annoying, and perhaps acted somewhat as a buffer dragging out the 113 minute long film.
A remake of the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, I can't comment on any comparison as I haven't seen the original.
Star - Helen Mirren
Genre - Thriller
Cert - 15
Country - USA
Run Time - 114 minutes
Rental - 2.99p per night @ Blockbuster
In January 2010 a crack team of 14 Mossad assassins ( allegedly) under false names and disguises were sent to kill 'Mahmoud al-Mabhouh', a senior Hamas commander and one of the founders of the Palestinian 'al-Qassam' Brigade, eliminated by being drugged with succinylcholine, a quick-acting paralytic, and then suffocated in his room in a five-star Dubai hotel. The false identities, which included passports from all over the world (and one or two Brits), were gathered up and then quickly released by the Dubai police into the public domain. What is interesting here is the people in the passport photos that were supposed to have had their documents stolen also remained untraced. Therefore the suspicion must be that these were the people that actually did it and Mossad cynically released their names to the press soon after the deed was done so to impress to the whole world that there are many countries acting against Palestine and so the Jews are in the right with their often brutal military stance to defend their borders. Why would they allow another holocaust from the Muslims who seem to detest them?
Israel have always had hit-squads, Operation Wrath of God', the revenge for the Munich Olympics massacre, bringing them to prominence, Spielberg's excellent film 'Munich' covering that one very nicely. The Debt is the latest in that mildly pro Israel genre and a remake of the 2007 Israeli foreign language film of the same name, the latest in a long line of subtitled hits to be quickly remade for Hollywood to reach a wider commercial audience. Israeli movies tend to be polemics against their enemies and this no different, as many Jews in Hollywood as the Holy Land. I personally prefer the originals but if it means one less Jennifer Aniston romcom if Hollywood money goes elsewhere then so be it.
Helen Mirren ... Rachel Singer
Tom Wilkinson ... Stephan Gold
Ciarán Hinds ... David Peretz
Romi Aboulafia ... Sarah Gold
Tomer Ben David ... Sarah's Husband
Ohev Ben David ... Sarah's Son
Jessica Chastain ... Young Rachel
Marton Csokas ... Young Stephan
Sam Worthington ... Young David
Jesper Christensen ... Doktor Bernhardt / Dieter Vogel
Its 1997 and journalist Sarah Gold (Romi Aboulafia) is launching her new book, which tells the real life story of her heroic mother Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) and her exploits in Mossad, one of three celebrated agents sent to Berlin to capture and kidnap a (fictional) Nazi war criminal, Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), the so-called 'The Surgeon of Birkenau', who 'experimented' on the Jews in the death camps, this book a celebration of that mission. Agent number two is also at the book launch, that of her ex-husband Stephan Gold (Tom Wilkinson), now in a wheel chair, courtesy of Hamas, the two hooking up on the same mission from the book.
Although Rachael is proud of her daughter there is clearly unease with her ex husband at the whole occasion. We learn why when we hear that the third agent, David Peretz (Ciarán Hinds), has just killed himself, the guilt of a secret the trio have been burdened with over the thirty years since their big mission just too much for him now the book is out, a book that may provoke a truth that is unpalatable for all.
As mum reads from the book to the assembled dignitaries, we flashback to the operation, 1967 in divided Berlin, where we meet the younger versions of our agents, quiet but confident Rachel (Jessica Chastain), cocky and arrogant Stephan (Marton Csokas) and the thoughtful David (Sam Worthington), pulled together for the mission from three different countries and clearly very proficient at what they do, Stephan the team leader.
Vogel is working in the city as a gynecologist, his alias Doctor Bernhardt, the plan for Rachel to be his patient so she can work out how to incapacitate him and the boys do the rest, then smuggle him out of East Germany to face justice in Israel. But with three attractive and fit people in the same safe house the sexual chemistry takes over and a love triangle of sort's forms as they prepare for orders from Tel Aviv to snatch Vogel, a distraction that could jeopardize the mission. But as we flash back to just after the book reading its clear it didn't happen as written and something went badly wrong and that wrong has to be put right, 'The Debt', why David went under a truck and why Rachael is going to have brush up her spy craft and dust down her cobwebs to finish the job...
Doktor Bernhardt: Do it. You want to do it... Do it. Kill me!
Doktor Bernhardt: That's right. I'd forgotten. You Jews never knew how to kill. Only how to die
If you enjoy a taught and exciting thriller that looks great and dressed up in Sunday best with a sexy cast then this is for you. If you get all het up over Israel and Middle-East politics and expect that to be explored here then this may not be for you, the subject matter coming second in pursuit of action and emotion. I didn't see the original but I presume the remake has been dumbed down a bit by developing the love story and thinning out the politics that can often put people off of these movies. It does briefly flirt with controversy with questions on how the Holocaust was allowed to happen and why the Nazi's had such an easy ride doing it but the film quickly back on safe ground with a romantic clinch or touch at that point, a suggestion or two that the Jews were too selfish to act together and stop the Holocaust and so that the real dishonor at the heart of the films message.
Its competently acted and a breeze for the always excellent Tom Wilkinson and the remarkably still sexy Helen Mirren at 64. The star of the show is Jessica Chastain as the young Rachel although the cast are somewhat undermined by the way this film drags on and on in the middle. It needed a good haircut. That aside it was good fun and edgy enough to steer well clear of the dumb action genre and with British director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) behind the camera it looks good and of the period. When a film looks authentic that can often be enough to stick with it. I still think Munich was much the better film though.
Its cost $20 million to make but did a healthy $45 million back and so considered a success by the bean counters. Its appeal would be mum and dad with a glass of wine or a single guys and so not the Jennifer Aniston crowd. But its main purpose is to reinforce the feeling that Jews deserve their own state and those Nazi war criminals are still out there to bring back the horror, dare I say the Muslims are the new Nazis to Jews, Argentina alone believed to have taken in over 4000 war criminals after the war. What we also know is a lot of these Nazi scientists that experimented in the death camps were quietly recruited by countries like America to use their experiment data to perfect things like space suits and ejector seats. But they don't talk about that in Hollywood.
Imdb.com - 6.9/10 (22,490 votes)
Metacritic.com - 65% critic's approval
Rottentomatos.com - 76% critic's approval
The Guardian - "Solid, workmanlike storytelling is what's on offer in this meaty thriller with robust and satisfying star turns"
The Times - "Offers something for those looking for a film with more on its mind than simple set-pieces"
The New Yorker - "There is an awkward, irresoluble tension between the movie's urge to thrill and the weighty pull of the historical obligations that it seeks to assume. How much, to be blunt, should we be enjoying ourselves?
The LA Times - "If you like your spy thrillers tense, gripping and meaningful, The Debt should be on the top of your must-see list".
-A look inside Doubt-
Behind the scenes drivel
-The Berlin Affair:The Triangle at the Cetre of the Debt-
I really enjoyed this film. It was a little hard to get into at first as the film starts in 1997 with Rachel (a retired secret agent) being honoured for her work in 1965 by her daughter Sarah. Sarah has written a book about the events that took place in 1965. When Rachel reads out a particular scene from the book at a dinner we are transported back to 1965, with no clue of what is going on, we see a young Rachel (played by Jessica Chastain) putting out pots to catch drips in a dingy apartment.
Pretty soon she is struck in the face by a shadowy figure, knocked to the ground and when she tries to grab the ankle of her attacker she is kicked on the side of the face - which explains the faded scar on the 1997 Rachel (played by Dame Helen Mirren.) Rachel finally gains consciousnesses, grabs a gun, drags herself across the floor and shoots her attacker as he tries to make his escape.
Then the movie jumps to 1997, with everyone applauding Rachel's story. Her ex-husband, Stefan, has also made an appearance at this point.
The next part of the film is strange and didn't really make sense until I'd seen the next few parts of the film. But it cuts to Rachel and Stefan, talking by the beach and then jumps to an apartment of their fellow agent David - who previously committed suicide by jumping in front of a big truck. Like I said the film jumps around an awful lot ;).
During this scene we're then again transported back to 1965, with Rachel arriving in Berlin and meeting up with her 'husband' David - a cover story, of course, because we soon learn they are agents. They travel back to a dingy apartment where a young Stefan is waiting.
Under the cover of infertility Rachel visits Dr. Vogel, a Nazi war criminal known as the 'Surgeon Of Brikenau' who performed horrible medical testing on concentration camp victims (injecting petrol into people and putting bleach into children's eyes) during the second World War. The three agents plan on bringing the doctor back to Israel, with the plan slowly unraveling as the movie progresses.
Another story that plays on in the background of all this is the love triangle between Stefan, Rachel and David. Stefan is the older, more assured but arrogant agent with David being the sensitive, almost poetic, agent and Rachel as the young 25 year old girl who is hurt when her romantic advances are ignored by David. Stefan swoops in and takes his opportunity with Rachel, the pair end up in bed together and as a result Rachel ends up pregnant - with Sarah, their daughter, who then writes the book about her mother.
Rachel visits the doctor the next day and this is when the action starts happening ;). I won't reveal any more as I'm not one to reveal movie spoilers but suffice to say at this point in the film I was very much involved with the whole thing.
I'd come in from a party fairly early and didn't feel like going to bed. My husband was also up (he'd had to stay home 'babysitting' ;) and felt the same, so we browsed BlinkBox for a film to watch. Everything he wanted to watch I wasn't keen on and vice versa and it actually took us an hour to settle on this film :P.
I'm glad we watched it, though, it was worth staying up late for because it was really entertaining and thought provoking. I can see that there are lots of morals in this film's story - you know don't sleep with a guy you don't love because you might end up pregnant and tied to him for life ;). I also liked the love story in this film, it was very true to life and without spoiling the film too much it didn't have a typical happy ending.
I also wasn't aware that the Nazis had actually performed all kinds of medical tests on all of kinds of people in their concentration camps, so it was another horrifying discovery for me. I read a little about World War 2 today after seeing the film so the film inspired me to seek out that knowledge.
I would give the film a 5/5 because it had some stellar actors and acting in it, a believable story line and was gripping, although I wouldn't say it was gripping from the start. It didn't feel like I had to get into the story as the story grabbed me from the screen from fairly early on, but it did take a while for the whole story to make sense (or maybe that's just me ;).
I would thoroughly recommend this film to anyone looking for an entertaining film to rent or buy as the film is balanced out in terms of not leaving you completely depressed or left wondering if it's left open for a sequel ;).