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September 4, 2011
Review - " The Debt "  -  (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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The Debt
Directed by: John Madden
Starring: Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds, Sam
Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, Romi
Aboulafia, Jesper Christensen

Four years ago, Assaf Bernstein directed a movie about three retired
Mossad agents confronted by a challenge from their past in a movie
called The Debt. Just recently, John Madden directed a remake of this
movie with the same title. Although originally intended for a December
2010 release date, the movie was finally released at the end of
August. I have never seen the 2007 version. Which means there is no
way I could compare this new version to the older one.

Back in 1965, three young, idealistic Mossad operatives - Rachel
(Jessica Chastain), Stephan (Marton Csokas) and David (Sam
Worthington) - were dispatched to East Berlin to capture a notorious
Nazi war criminal, Dr. Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), the "Butcher
of Birkenau," and transport him to Israel to stand trial for his cruel
experiments on Jews in concentration camps.

Skip ahead to 1997, as their triumphant exploits are recounted in a
book, proudly written by Rachel's daughter (Romi Aboulafia). But
now-retired, facially-scarred Rachel (Helen Mirren) is obviously
uncomfortable occupying the spotlight at the publication's celebratory
festivities. She's stunned when her wheelchair-bound ex-husband,
Stephan (Tom Wilkinson),informs her that their distraught, melancholy
colleague, David (Ciaran Hinds), has just killed himself and that a
haunting, guilty secret they've hidden for many years is about to be
revealed. It seems that a mysterious man claiming to be Dr. Vogel has surfaced in a mental hospital in the Ukraine and one
of them must discover the truth before an embarrassing and damaging story can be published by an investigative journalist.

From there, we have an extended flashback to 1965, wherein we learn the truth about the capture of the “Surgeon of
Birkenau” (an utterly marvelous Jesper Christiansen), who is — fittingly enough — working as a gynecologist in East Berlin
under an assumed name. Young Rachel poses as the wife of David in order to get close to the monster, with Stephan acting
as ringleader to the strategy: a plan which doesn’t go as planned, and leaves room for some ill-fated improvisation.

The acting was superb. Jesper Christensen, who had impressed me in the last two James Bond movies, was even more
fascinating in his subtle performance as the ruthless, yet manipulative Dieter Vogel. Both Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds
gave solid performances as the older Stefan and David. But the real star of the 1997 sequences was Helen Mirren, who was
wonderful as an older Rachel, who believed that she had finally put the past behind her. She also proved that one could still
be a first-rate female action star at the age of 65/66. The real stars of the entire movie were Jessica Chastain, Sam
Worthington and Marton Csokas. Chastain was superb as the younger Rachel, who found herself caught up not only in a
deadly mission with a dangerous adversary;
but also in an emotionally confusing situation
between two men. Cskokas gave an
enlightening performance as the colorful and
commanding Stefan, whose extroverted
facade hid an ambitious drive that made him
willing to do anything to maintain his career.
It was good to see Sam Worthington in a
first-rate role after nearly two years. His
portrayal of David Peretz was probably the
most intense in the entire movie. Worthington
did a superb job of conveying not only
David's quietly expressed desire for Rachel,
but also his reluctance to get emotionally
involved with others following the loss of his
entire family during the Holocaust.

The Debt had one major flaw - at least for
me, it was the ending. I have to be honest. I
usually do not mind if a movie ends on an
ambiguous or vague note . . . as long as it
works. For me, such an ending worked for the
2010 movie, Inception. The vague note on
which The Debt ended, failed to work for me.
It simply did not feel right and I had the
suspicion that either Madden or
screenwriters Matthew Vaughn, Kris Thykier,
Eduardo Rossoff were trying to be just a little
too artistic. And The Debt struck me as the
type of story that did not need an ambiguous
ending of that kind.

The ending can often make or break a
movie. In The Debt it broke it. It turned what
could have been a great movie into a
mediocre one.