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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Debt

- Rachel views photos of Vogel's victims

This week's movie rental was The Debt (rated R), a 2011 thriller starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, CiarĂ¡n Hinds, Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and was directed by John Madden. It's a remake of the 2007 Israeli film of the same name by Assaf Bernstein, and tells a story that takes place both in the past (1965) and in the present (1997).

In the present, Rachel (Mirren), her now ex-husband Stefan (Wilkinson), and their friend David (Hinds), are middle-aged Israeli former-agents whose past feat of capturing and killing a Nazi war criminal, Dieter Vogel (The Surgeon of Birkenau), in East Berlin in 1965 has been publicized by a book written by Rachel and Stefan's daughter. When they find out that the truth may soon be revealed to all -- that the Nazi wasn't killed by them but escaped -- David commits suicide, and Rachel sets out to find Vogel.

- David

At first the timelines are interspersed, but the middle of the movie takes place in 1965 .... the meeting of Rachel (Chastain) and David (Worthington) and Stefan (Csokas) in East Berlin for the operation, the pretense of a marriage between "German" couple Rachel and David, Rachel becoming the patient of the now gynocologist Vogel, the Nazi's capture, his escape, and the agents' decision to lie about what had happened.

- the older Rachel

I thought the movie good but also disturbing. The disturbing part wasn't unexpected .... the scenes of the photos of the Nazi's victims contrasting spookily with the photos of his patients on his doctor-office wall, the awful toll of the switching of roles when the agents become the captors and the Nazi their prisoner, the crushing responsibility the agents feel to bring Vogel back alive so he can admit his crimes to the world. I think very few of us can understand the effects on individuals of having been victims (or the relatives of victims) of something like the Holocaust, but the film does try to illustrate this through the characters, especially the character of David, the only surviving member of his family.

The story reminded me of Adolf Eichmann, who'd escaped after the war to Argentina with the help of Catholic Bishop Hudal and his ratline, and who was eventually captured by Israeli agents and put on trial.

I recommend the film - it may be too violent for some and the ending was a little too convenient, but the scenes in Tel Aviv and Berlin were interesting, the acting was good, and the story escaped being a routine thriller with its emphasis on the characters and the question of what's the ethical response to an evil that can barely be understood, much less compensated for. Here's The New York Times review of the film - Heroic Past Erodes in Present. And here's the trailer ..


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