Thu August 25, 2011
Director: John Madden (Shakespeare in Love)
Screenplay: Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass), et al.
Cast: Helen Mirren (The Queen), Sam Worthington (Avatar)
Having just seen an exciting European thriller, Point Blank, I wasn't prepared to enjoy another the next day, but I did with The Debt, set in Israel, Germany, and Ukraine and based on a 2007 Israeli film. By efficiently intercutting between the '60's of the capture and the '90's of the return to the case, director John Madden helms this complicated story about capturing a Nazi war criminal, doctor-butcher Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christiansen), to bring him to Israeli justice.
A trio of highly-trained Mossad agents is invincible until their captive creates enough dissent to escape. After that taut drama of the first hour, the film devolves into melodrama resulting from the mistakes the trio improbably made with the prisoner.
"Mistakes" because two of them allow themselves to listen to the brilliant doctor and leave themselves open to his bolting, notwithstanding the captive unbelievably overpowers the robot-like fighter, Rachel (Jessica Chastain), who allows herself to become involved in a triangle and become emotionally distraught too many times (unless their training does not include psychology).
Even operative David (Sam Worthington) is guilty of letting the monster into his head, despite the fact that he had the strength to avoid entangling himself with Rachel. However, Stephan (Marton Csokas) has no trouble siring a child with Rachel. Only he has the cool of a top Israeli agent. The seeds, so to speak, of their failure, are sown in the triangle; the enduring torment is from the lie they tell about shooting the escaping doctor, who actually vanished. Until 1997, that is, when the failure has a chance of being exposed.
I dislike dwelling too much on plot, as I have here, but the strength of the thriller is the plot although the actors are first-rate, exemplified by the older Rachel (Helen Mirren), Stephan (Tom Wilkinson), and David (Ciaran Hinds) and the actors who play their younger selves. Director John Madden keeps it apace without allowing that pesky plot to get out of control.
I found a theme despite the tense action: Tell the truth or a Nazi doctor will haunt you?well maybe not the business after the "or." The tension about keeping the lie going for the sake of Rachel's daughter, who has published a book about the heroic capture, and the pride of Israel is palpable, and believable enough to make the rest of us question what we would do in the same circumstance.
I, for one, would choose not to get involved; my review is the truth's all I'm sayin'.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, Cinema Classics, and On the Marquee, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml and on demand at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain
Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com