I made the rare trip out to the cinema tonight, to view a movie that was not comic book related. I suppose it’s not really as rare for me to get out as it used to be. The running joke around work was that the last movie I saw in theatres was silent. In fact, this year alone, I’ve seen nine movies on the big screen…of which only four had super heroes in them…I’m sure that once upon a time I had hope, and I had a life…but hope presented itself and I took up the invitation today.
I had seen a preview for The Debt on the Hanna DVD, which I had watched just the other day, and was frustrated that it was a “Coming Soon to Theatres” preview, because soon is so subjective a term in moviedom. I was hoping to rent it, thinking it to be one of the many films that I had missed, forgotten or overlooked when it came to big screen viewing. The preview did it’s job, and sold me on the idea of The Debt. Here was a spy/espionage thriller, with an impressive cast, something that I had been missing from my film diet for a while it would seem.
We start in 1997, as we learn about the 1966 mission undertaken by three Mossad agents to locate a Nazi war criminal; Dieter Vogel, the surgeon of Birkenau; living in East Berlin, and return him to Israel to stand trial. The tale is presented to us, in the modern day by way of a book reading. The daughter of one of the agents on the mission has written a book about their successful mission, and the heroic acts of the agents. We now jump back to 1960s East Berlin to watch their plan unfold, and implode. I will be very careful, and try to avoid any spoilers from this point on. The three agents have an intricate undercover plan set to kidnap the doctor, and smuggle him out of the country. When the map was drawn after WWII, some stations of the West Berlin train system were on the wrong side of the line. These stations were heavily guarded, and the trains did not stop there anymore. The Israeli plan is to cut a hole in a fence, behind the cover of the incoming trains, and take the drugged doctor through to a train that they have arranged to stop for a few minutes. The undercover part of the plan goes fairly smoothly, and the train station escape begins. Unfortunately, their prisoner is less than cooperative, and alerts the guards, forcing our heroes to retreat with their target, and hide until a new plan can be laid.
There were several things I liked about this film, the first being the strong cast. Worthington delivers a decent performance and Mirren is excellent in all she touches, and adds class and clout to any production. Jessica Chastain plays the younger version of Helen Mirren, or “1966 Rachel” if you wish. She does a terrific job throughout as well, but the strength of any protagonist only comes with a strong villain. Jesper Christensen I believe stole the show, as his character was very real, and very evil, to an almost unsettling degree. The way he portrayed Vogel was awe striking. For brief, fleeting seconds, he would seem rational, or at least human, but then he would speak, and fill the room with such fear, and such hate. Underneath the surface lie hints of unimaginable darkness that reveal his true history as an infamous Nazi butcher. There’s something monstrous, even terrifying, in Vogel’s seeming normality. Some of the best scenes; from both an acting and a tension/suspenseful point of view; come between “young Rachel” and Vogel. Rachel first poses as a patient for the elderly gynecologist, lying prone on the examination table exposing herself to the man responsible for unspeakable Nazi evil. After the capture, Rachel is forced to acknowledge his humanity and vice versa. It was interesting to watch the relationship between Rachel and Vogel unfold, first as patient and doctor, then as captor and captive.
The film did jump back and forth a bit from the “present” (or 1997) to the original mission in the past. When films do this, I sometimes wonder if they would be more or less effective if their events were just shown in proper chronological order, but as a wise man once said “A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting” . To create suspense when the audience thinks they already know the outcome of an adventure can be very challenging indeed, but the story was well written, and the film very well scripted. Though there was not a lot of fast paced action, the film did not really drag, as anytime there was a lull in the action, the suspense and tension were expertly built. There are many shocks built into The Debt that come out of nowhere, and hit you like a truck. “The Debt” itself is revealed to us through a shocking twist in the narrative, linking back to an earlier scene, that was so well done, it is repeated, with equal, if not greater suspense the second time through. A friend of mine whispered to me that she “would not jump this time”, but director John Madden creates the mood so well, that you do.
While I did really enjoy the film, and have no problem recommending it, there were a few things about it that prevented me from giving it anymore than 3.5 stars. While the film was very suspenseful, almost all film-goers know that when you know that when you get two male and one female agent working together undercover, there is going to be a love triangle. And while it does factor into the film, its initiation seemed a little forced to me. My only other real complaint, is a bit of a plot hole in my mind. While I can see how it was necessary to the overall story, it seems a little improbable to me. If this mission had been two years in the making, and 1966 Mossad can possess a miniature camera that looks to be better and of higher technology than my own 2011 digital camera, how can they not have a set of handcuffs?
And on that note, cheers and good night!