What a rave !! Am looking forward to this film.
Movie review: 'The Debt'
An excellent script and cast, plus John Madden's
direction, keep this spy thriller taut and riveting.
By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
August 31, 2011
Bristling with dangers both corporeal and
cerebral, "The Debt" is a superbly crafted
espionage thriller packed with Israeli-Nazi score
settling. A steely Helen Mirren and Jessica
Chastain stalk its sinister interior, upping the
ante and the adrenaline with every twist and turn.
Mossad secret agent Rachel Singer her initially
defining years played by the white-hot Chastain,
the older redefining ones by Oscar winner Mirren
is the key that unlocks the story and its
dilemmas. But the film overall is blessed by a
crack cast Marton Csokas, Sam Worthington and
Jesper Christensen in particular who keep your
spine tingling and mind spinning as the story
moves through a maze of deception.
Presiding over the complexities is British
director John Madden, a good match for the
material. Over the years he has proved
particularly adroit at parsing the fraught
consider the range of shading in just three of
his films: "Ethan Frome," "Her Majesty, Mrs.
Brown" and "Shakespeare in Love." "The Debt," an
adaptation of the well-regarded 2007 Israeli film
"Ha-Hov," was a meaty story to start with. It has
been neatly expanded to heavy up the past by a
rangy group of writers: Matthew Vaughn (a
writer-director-producer with an eclectic vitae
that includes "X-Men: First Class" and
"Kick-Ass"), Jane Goldman (a novelist and
Vaughn's "Kick-Ass" co-writer) and Peter
Straughan ("The Men Who Stare at Goats," among others).
Madden sets the stage with an evocative scene,
beautifully rendered by cinematographer Ben Davis
("Stardust"), that will only gain force as the
mystery is revealed. In the belly of a military
transport plane, three people are in the shadows.
As the back ramp opens, one of them whispers,
"Breathe." It turns out to be fitting advice for
the characters and not a bad suggestion for those of us watching.
After that tantalizing hint at earlier intrigues,
the film shifts to 1997 Tel Aviv. Rachel (Mirren
picking up the thread), long retired and resigned
to a more settled life, finds herself
uncomfortably in the spotlight again. The
occasion is her daughter's new book on the daring
capture of the surgeon of Birkenau an operation
Rachel was instrumental in 30 years earlier. It
becomes a handy, though at times a bit too
forced, way to fill in some of the back story
we'll need to understand what exactly is at stake
and to transport us back in time.
At a book launch party, as Rachel reads aloud a
short excerpt about the seminal event that
provides the spine of the film, East Berlin,
circa 1965 comes into view. It is a cold, dreary
city, a stark contrast from the polished,
sparking Tel Aviv we've just left. A trio of
young Mossad agents Chastain stepping back in
as the younger Rachel, Stephan (Csokas) and David
(Worthington) have been brought together to
pull off a critical mission in Israel's effort to
bring Nazi war criminals to justice.
Their target is the monstrous Doktor Bernhardt
(Christensen), notorious for the surgical maiming
he did in the concentration camps. He has eluded
capture, slipping into a role as an OB-GYN, a
fertility specialist, hiding behind a new identity and a new name, Vogel.
Chastain turns in a searing performance as young
Rachel, infusing her with aching vulnerability.
Csokas brings a visceral life to Stephan's
burning ambition, while Worthington embodies the
tightly wound repression, righteousness and
regret that will drive David. The two men make an
excellent pair, tugging at Rachel's loyalties, as well as her heart.
Much of the drama is handled like a stage play in
the claustrophobic confines of an East German
apartment, where the young agents wrestle with
the issue of humanity itself and how much of it
should be accorded to a monster like Vogel. As
brutal dictatorships are being brutally crushed
in the real world now on almost a daily basis,
it's a particularly relevant question to consider.
For all the careful plotting and planning a
trap set, the quarry caught there is a mistake.
It marks Rachel in a way that shapes and scars
her literally and psychologically for life, and
sets in motion a series of choices that will haunt the others equally.
Those choices come to a head in Tel Aviv, where
Tom Wilkinson comes in as the older version of
Stephan, now wheelchair-bound, yet powerful still
in the Israeli special forces. Ciaran Hinds turns
up as the aged David, still troubled by what
happened 30 years ago. There is a wrong to be
righted, set up at the beginning by an
extraordinarily chilling scene that is replayed
in Rashomon-like ways throughout the film but
that never loses its withering power over Rachel,
Stephan, David or, as importantly, us.
Madden keeps the action of past and present
moving along like freight trains, with a
collision inevitable. A final chapter, written in
blood by Mirren, shifts the balance of power of
the film briefly in favor of the present, though
ultimately the past wins the day.
The bridge between the two is an absolutely
riveting and chilling performance by Christensen,
who's gone up against James Bond a couple of
times in the past. It would have been easy to
play the Nazi surgeon as a black, soulless
creature. What makes him so fearsome is the way
he tries to seduce the young Mossad agents not
looking for love, but for them to recognize him
as being as much a human as they are, to see the
very flaws they despise in him reflected in
themselves and in this Christensen's nuance is lethal.
Lest you worry that this is a morality play
masquerading in secret-agent clothing, have no
fear. Madden has woven in a series of tightly
coiled and excellently choreographed action
sequences that are "Bourne Identity" quality,
making "The Debt" as bloody as it is brainy. Breathe.
MPAA rating: R for some violence and language
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Playing: In general release
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