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The Debt is a Nazi hunt/spy thriller all rolled into one and it's nice
to see a classic thriller that takes the subject matter seriously and
relies on suspense to keep us in its grip. I was at the edge of my seat
for most of the time and there's plenty of surprising turns in the
story to keep even the most jaded enthralled.
Most of todays inept filmmakers rely on blowing stuff up hoping that this will count as suspense. It also is such a breath of fresh air in an appalling year of C -grade superhero movies and obscure comic book adaptations. Hopefully this does well so Hollywood can go back to making well written thrillers and dramas like they used to.
Best suspense thriller of 2011 so far.
Greetings again from the darkness. Espionage thrillers can be so much
fun in both book and movie form. Movies actually have a little
advantage for the action scenes. Books clearly have the advantage in
details, backstory and character development. What is frustrating as a
viewer is when a movie starts strong and then crumbles under the weight
of expectation ... sometimes trying to make a bigger splash than
necessary. Such is the case with director John Madden's remake of the
rarely-seen 2007 Israeli film "HA-HOV".
The story is centered around a 1965 mission of a trio of Mossad agents. Mossad is Israel's CIA. These three agents, Rachel (Jessica Chastain), Stephan (Marton Csokas) and David (Sam Worthington) are to capture the notorious Nazi war criminal, the Surgeon of Birkenau (Jesper Christensen), and bring him back for a proper trial of war time atrocities.
Flash forward to 1997 and Rachel's daughter has written a book about the daring mission and the three heroes. The older version of the characters are played by Helen Mirren (Rachel), Tom Wilkinson (Stephan) and Ciran Hinds (David). We are treated to flashbacks of the mission and how things took a wrong turn, but ended just fine. Or did they? There seems to be some inconsistencies with the story told and the actual events that have created much strain between Rachel and Stephan, and life-altering changes for the more sensitive David.
This is an odd film because the best story parts occur when the younger cast members are carrying out the 1965 mission. It is full of suspense and intrigue. The intensity and believability drops off significantly in the 1997 version, but oddly, the older actors are much more fun to watch on screen ... especially the great Helen Mirren. I am not sure what all of that really means, but for me, it meant the third act of the film was a bit hokey and hard to buy.
Director John Madden is known for his fabulous "Shakespeare in Love", but not much else. His films since then have all come up just a bit short of that very high bar he set 13 years ago. Jessica Chastain continues her fantastic 2011 season adding this performance to her more spectacular turns in "Tree of Life" and "The Help". Sam Worthington is known for his role in "Avatar", but his character here is so thinly written, I doubt any actor could have pulled it off. Jesper Christensen seems to usually play the bad guy and he is in full glory here as a Nazi war criminal with no regrets.
The first half will keep you on the edge of your seat, but by the end you will have a somewhat empty feeling. What a shame as this one teased us with much hope.
I went to The Debt because I had seen the trailers ages ago and was
instantly telling myself I wanted to see this film. Not to be reminded
about one of the ugliest of human stains in world history; not because
I wanted to think about images in a WWII documentary I happened to
watch unattended at an adult party when I was seven years old and will
never forget (but, I try); not because I wanted something to feel bad
I went because of the reviews, the trailer, and Helen Mirren, and pretty much the entire ensemble of brilliant actors. It was a bit slow starting according to my companion, and some of the initial flashbacks left one a little confused, and then once the story started when the Mossad agents were in Germany to track down and bring the "Surgeon of Birkenau" to trial, I was so glad it was a reminder film. That no one will ever fully understand what drives a nation and group like the Mossad to do what they do. This made me understand a little bit more.
This was a very tragic, thoughtful film with the embodiment of the mortal coil and well worth watching and thinking about. Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain as the young Rachel were so good. Give Mirren another Oscar already. And, the men, including the "Surgeon" who I wanted to kill myself, were all so very good in this.
I don't agree the film lagged at the end. In fact, it left you wondering, questioning, the twist was unexpected, and I am glad, despite the lingering tears in my eyes as I write this, that I saw it. My fellow cinematic partner agreed as well. Go see this film. You won't forget it. And, we really shouldn't ever forget it.
It's always nice when you see a movie trailer that looks pretty good,
and then when you see the movie it far exceeds your expectations. The
Debt, a remake of a 2007 Israeli movie of the same name, is a
suspenseful espionage thriller about a team of Israeli Mossad agents as
they attempt to track down "the Surgeon of Birkenau". The movie
incorporates flashbacks and flash-forwards in a controllable fashion,
with approximately half the movie taking place in 1966 and the other
half taking place in 1997. The film is based on a screenplay co-written
by Jane Goldman and frequent co-collaborator, Matthew Vaughn, a rising
star known for his writing and directing of films such as the
underrated Kick -Ass and the 2011 summer hit X-Men: First Class.
Director John Madden, best known for his Oscar winning movie
Shakespeare in Love, crafts an intriguing film that although
predictable at times keeps you engaged. In The Debt, Madden has made
some great choices in casting; beginning with Oscar winner Helen Mirren
and Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson, both of whom provide stellar
performances. Jessica Chastain, Martin Csokas, and Sam Worthington,
although not having any Oscar nominations of their own, give
captivating performances during the movie's most brooding scenes.
I enjoy espionage films, such as Munich, Spy Game and North by Northwest, immensely. The Debt's strength, much like those other three films, is that it's character and story driven and not dependant on action or special effects to maintain its viewers. The pacing is steady and there's a lot of intensity as the agents attempt to accomplish their mission. The subject matter of the film is a dark one, and that's reflected in the film. Unlike your neighborhood police department or county sheriff's department, intelligence agencies do whatever is necessary to get the result they are seeking; such as some uncomfortable visits, for the patient as well as the viewer, with Dr. Bernhardt, played disturbingly by Jesper Christensen The movie kept me intrigued throughout, and I find myself often sliding up to the edge of my seat, unable to tear my eyes away from what was happening. As the film drew to a close, most questions are answered and closure is provided, unlike just about every other movie made today.
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Is the truth actually what happened or what everyone believes happened?
The Debt attempts to answer the question and almost succeeds if it were
not for some very poor screen writing. It is 1966 and Mossad has
finally tracked down the infamous Birkenau surgeon, Dieter Vogel
(Jesper Christensen). Dr. Vogel is very high on the list of Nazi war
criminals the Israelis are hunting down because of the atrocities he
committed at his concentration camp. He would deliberately blind
children to see if he could change eye color and cut off hands and feet
and reattach them on the wrong limbs to see what happened.
The spy team assigned to kidnap him and bring him to justice are team leader Stephan (Marton Csokas), David (Sam Worthington), and Rachel (Jessica Chastain). Their story is told in flashback and the first half of it is absolutely riveting. Rachel poses as a woman with fertility issues and becomes a patient of Dr. Vogel who is hiding as an OBGYN in the Soviet sector of East Berlin. The tension during the examination room scenes are the highlight of the film with both Rachel and the doctor verbally maneuvering to ensure the other person is who they think they are.
After a convincing action sequence, the story abruptly turns from a kidnap/escape scenario into a hostage situation. This is one of the points where the film just falls apart. Mossad and their agents are the best in the entire world at their art. There is no way such highly trained agents would fall victim to and resort to the amateur hour theatrics which come with the hostage sequence. The script is riddled with illogical and bizarre events which only occur during the film's most important sequences for some reason.
Fast forward to 1997 and now older Rachel (Helen Mirren) is at her daughter's book release party which describes the team's successful mission to Berlin all those years ago. Older Stephen (Tom Wilkinson) is also around for the recollections. The 1997 scenes are adeptly written and filmed, especially scenes with Mirren. Tom Wilkerson is just along for the ride. Unfortunately, the movie's climax is one of the most preposterous situations a decent film has been saddled with. It is so ridiculous that a two hour meeting with the writers would still not convince me this was the best way to resolve the story's actions and issues. The mood and atmosphere are destroyed and the audience collectively shook their heads in disbelief at the mockery on screen.
Screenwriters Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass), and Peter Straughan (The Men Who Stare at Goats) adapted this screenplay from an earlier film. The Debt's first hour is quite good with adept flow from 1997 to 1966 and the truly suspenseful scenes between Chastain and Christensen. However, their handling of the hostage situation and the absurd climax are what really hurt this film and makes the audience shake their heads with the 'Oh, what might have been' lament.
A movie that is entirely driven by the plot is refreshing these days.
The script is well written and the acting very good. The dialog and
interaction between the Dr. form Birkenau and the more troubled of the
3 young agents builds up in great narrative drama. The twists in the
plot keep coming. Everything falls into place, even the somber air of
the characters at the start of the movie. To me, the movie really
starts with the first twist in the story, a good 45 minutes into the
film. Your mind has got to reset the sequence. I thought this is
Will those who you love the most, prefer your trophies or your truth? Mirren's character choice was clear. I enjoyed this film very much, it does actually make you think. How often does that happen these days?
This espionage thriller is an English-language version of a 2007
Israeli film "Ha-Hov" and it is immediately apparent why an adaptation
that will inevitably win a much larger audience was made. This is a
gripping tale, intelligently told and cleverly constructed. It is much
more exiting than the other spy movie of the summer of 2011 "Tinker
Tailor Solider Spy" and a much more authentic representation of the
Israeli secret service Mossad than "Munich".
Essentially we have two stories here, set in different times (1965 and 1997) and different locations (Berlin and Israel/Ukraine) but involving the same characters; yet director John Madden - whose first success was the contrasting "Shakespeare In Love" - has done a skillful job in interweaving the two narratives in a manner which requires the viewer to re-evaluate regularly both situations and motivations. The early period works better than the later one and fortunately it accounts for the majority of the film, but this is almost two hours of sustained tension.
Unusually there are seven strong roles in one film. The three Mossad agents Stephan, David and Rachel are played by Marton Csokas, Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain respectively in the Cold War period and portrayed by Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds and Helen Mirren respectively in the modern day setting, while the Danish Jesper Christensen is the surgeon of Birkenau throughout the story and gives this profoundly unsympathetic role a subtle psychological dimension.
Although most of these roles are male, it is the two female performances that are especially memorable. Mirren has had a brilliant career and it is wonderful to see her at the top of her game in her sixties, while Chastain seems to have suddenly burst into movies with "The Tree Of Live" and clearly has a major career ahead of her.
The movie having an apt title, 'The Debt' doesn't convey the true
meaning till the last parts of the movie. A true thriller at the start
but soon seems shifts into a dramatic and interpersonal conflict
paradigm about what's wrong and right, and the past even though being
kept in shrouded mystery and a well-guarded secret does haunt you,
forcing you to go back and correct it, once and for all.
Helen Mirren does an excellent job (as always) displaying an ubiquitous sense of discomfort and guilt that is present throughout her role. Her interweaving role as a old,retired Mossad-agent with a ghoulish past and a mother who values her daughter's happiness above all. Sam Worthington and Martin Csokas also playing an excellent part on the whole.
The film switches from past to present and vice-versa in an excellent manner, maintaining the thrills by not divulging all the information at once about both the time frames.
I did particularly enjoy the whole movie experience with action(not exactly adrenaline pumping but still there), emotions and guilt sprayed on the whole 110 minutes. Well, the movie might have got a bit higher on my side of the review for relating to riveting historical events like Auschwitz, which always gets me into the research mode about what and how it happened. But keeping that apart, this is still an awesome movie to watch on a weekend after buying the DVD (completely worth it).
In John Madden's The Debt, three young strangers in 1965 East Berlin
seek to find and capture The Surgeon of Birkenau, a ruthless doctor
that performed horrific acts on imprisoned Jews during World War II.
The threesome are played by Sam Worthington, Marton Csokas and Jessica Chastain who embody David, Stefan and Rachel respectively in their younger years. Ciarán Hinds, Tom Wilkinson and Helen Mirren play the characters when the film switches between the 1960's to the end of 1999.
The film flips between the thirty year time frame liberally in the first third of the film. We watch as the young David, Stefan and Rachel welcome us to 'The Mission' and follow them through the intricate plot details that, if all goes correctly, will bring the doctor to across the Berlin wall to face trial for his actions. Young Rachel will pose as a patient to gain access to the doctor and when confirmation is received, she will use her special training to subdue the surgeon so that Stefan and David can transport him alive to West Berlin and then back to Israel.
But things don't go according to plan and soon the three are forced to remain in hiding with their prisoner until they can determine a new course of action. It's while cooped up in their apartment that the doctor begins to use mind games in an effort to gain the psychological advantage while revealing the true evil behind his words.
In more modern times, we learn that Rachel and Stefan had both married and divorced. Their daughter has written a book about the abduction and the days that followed in the apartment detailing her parents as heroes to the cause.
But recent developments and an unexpected suicide by David leave Stefan and Rachel in the same position they were 30 years ago. And one must travel back to Europe to seek out someone who claims to be the original Surgeon of Birkenau.
John Madden is no stranger to award winning dramas. Shakespeare in Love won out over Saving Private Ryan and Ethan Frome was a well received romance back in 1993. Madden works the camera like a maestro in effortlessly weeding the story through multiple decades. The film never loses focus and relies on its strengths namely the performances of Mirren, Csokas and Chastain to carry the heavy plot line forward.
However, in the final acts, the story gets a little lost. Watching Mirren head to Kiev, Ukraine was a leap of faith and political, social and moral values begin to choke the life out of what was a better than average thriller up to that point.
With the conclusion of The Debt being too heavy handed to maintain the thin weight of the first ¾, The Debt eventually fails to be the film that showed award promise in the trailers. We are not suggesting that The Debt is a bad film, but its final reel wilt does take away from the execution of its predecessors.
Mirren may still get award recognition come December (the film is officially released December 29th), but it may be a long shot to see The Debt as one of the Best Picture nominees.
A remake of the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, John Madden's Westernised take on the gritty espionage thriller is enjoyably diverting, if not much more. Tracking three Mossad agents across two timeframes as young adults they embark on a perilous mission to capture a serial killing Nazi surgeon, 30 years later they revisit their haunted memories there's plenty going on story-wise. However it lacks that required edge to elevate it into spellbinding territory, largely due to the uninspiring way it's shot and presented. The impressive line-up of actors don't disappoint; Martin Csokas, Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain gel naturally as the inexperienced spies, whilst Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds and Helen Mirren add enormous clout as their elderly counterparts. Could've been better, could've been worse; a mixed affair really.
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