Film Reviews

THE DEBT

By • Sep 20th, 2011 •

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The twists are shocking and mesmerizing. A high wire, intelligent espionage thriller. It is one of the best movies of 2011.

I just finished reading “The Good Old Days: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders” edited by Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen, Volker Riess and Hugh Trevor-Roper. This is the horrifying account of what happened to the European Jews before the industrialization of concentration camps by the Nazis.

The title “The Good Old Days” comes from the cover of a private photo album kept by concentration camp commandant Kurt Franz of Treblinka. It is an extremely gruesome and disturbing collection of photographs, diaries, letters home, and confidential reports created by the executioners and sympathetic observers of the Holocaust.

The shock is that before the creation of the concentration camps, public executions of Jews were carried out by civilians! It was called “Execution tourism”. The photographs of the brutality of the civilian populations of Europe against Jews are devastating.

Set in Tel Aviv in 1997, a book launch sets the drama. Former Mossad secret agents Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren), Stephan (Tom Wilkinson) and David (Ciarán Hinds) were responsible for capturing and killing the notorious Surgeon of Birkenau, Doktor Bernhardt (Jesper Christensen) thirty years earlier. Hailed as heroes and lionized, Rachel and Stephan’s daughter has written a book about the event.

As Rachel reads a portion from the book at the banquet, we are taken back to East Berlin, 1965. Rachel (Jessica Chastain) has joined Stephan (Marton Csokas) and David (Sam Worthington) to lure Bernhardt – living as an OB-GYN fertility specialist under a new identity – into a trap, kidnap him, and return him to Israel to stand trial for his crimes against humanity.

All is not perfect however, as back in 1997, David has turned up and he’s not doing well. He’s very troubled and when he commits suicide, Rachel and Stephan are forced to confront the truth. Stephan, now wheelchair-bound and still an important and powerful Israeli agent, has a lot at stake – his reputation. As does Rachel. Her daughter’s admiration and her entire life as a beacon of justice, is threatened.

The twists are shocking and mesmerizing. And leaves every audience member with the question: “What would you do?”

Directed by John Madden, all the roles are expertly played, especially Jessica Chastian, who has the lion’s share of interaction with the Doktor. It is Christensen who has the difficult role and the most riveting. As Bernhardt, he is defiant and skilled at manipulation of his captors. It is an award-winning role that should not be overlooked – it is that powerful.

THE DEBT is a high wire espionage thriller. A high wire, intelligent espionage thriller. It is one of the best movies of 2011. THE DEBT is an adaptation of a 2007 Israeli film HAHOV and written by Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman, and Peter Straughan. While all the characters are nicely drawn, the writers give Bernhardt a villain’s justification that is harrowing and brings the horror into clear focus.

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