I go to movies all the time while in release, one to two a week. Seeing Jessica Chastain in both The Help, and Tree of Life, made me decide to see The Debt, my favorite moviegoing experience of the year.
Director John Madden directed Shakespeare in Love which won 7 Academy Awards including, Best Actress for Gwyneth Paltrow, and Best Supporting Actress for Judi Dench. He also directed Prime Suspect 3 starring both Helen Mirren and Ciaran Hinds, who both star in The Debt; and a favorite of mine, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, starring Nicholas Cage, Penelope Cruz, And Christian Bale.
I did something I rarely do, I went back for a second look. I have also seen the original movie The Debt available on cable on demand.
The Debt parallels real events and characters. Mossad agents abducted Eichmann in Argentina in 1961, tried him in Israel, and executed him. The notorious Dr Mengele, the butcher of Auschwitz fled to South America, and narrowly escaped capture by Mossad in Argentina fleeing to Paraguay, and then Brazil. Birkenau is known also as Auschwitz Birkenau. Twenty four surgeons experimented on human captives, often performing unnecessary surgical operations without anaesthetic.
In 1965, a rookie Mossad agent played by Jessica Chastain, crosses Checkpoint Charlie and joins two male agents in East Berlin, to identify and kidnap the notorious surgeon of Birkenau, now a gynaecologist. She must pose as a patient, and subject herself to the cold probings of her intimate place by the butcher, and take close up photos without arousing suspicion.
Photographs of his terrible deeds haunt her and fill her with apprehension and fear. In his office photos of smiling babies decorate his waiting room wall. A man who once took life from the world, now charged with bringing life into the world.
Her legs in stirrups, vulnerable, afraid, he probes her intimate space with his instrument, as he asks probing questions, about her unfamiliar accent, about her mother, about how she found him. It's tense and gripping. He gives her sex advice, and injections which will help her become pregnant. Meanwhile her desire grows for the sensitive agent, but David though attracted is closed off, and a romantic triangle develops. Will the doctors advice pay off?
When the mission goes wrong, the three agents and their captive remain in the same house. He would rather escape than die, and rather die than face trial. He senses the weakness in the relationships of his captors, and in their psyches, and pushes them to their psychological limits. He says things you would not expect to hear in a movie. As tensions mount, the great psychodramatic moments of the movie unfold. It's strangely intimate. He pushes the mother button with Rachel, while she shaves him with a cutthroat razor, and tears stream down her porcelain cheeks. She goes to the bathroom to throw up. When David, the sensitive one replies to him, 'you are a monster,' you can see from his facial expression that he is getting off on it. He plays them off each other. She is with him but it's you she wants. He seems able to read her mind, to guess her real name, intuit her condition. Here the acting is simply amazing and totally absorbing.
The doctor succeeds in his goal. They return to Israel, with an invented truth, and a heavy secret. Thirty years later that secret will force Rachel out of retirement, so the real truth can remain unknown.
The Debt is part suspense, part thriller, part psychodrama, its parts stirred by three great acting performances.
Jessica Chastain as the lead is incredible, with a face crafted by the cinematic gods, one of the best new talents I have seen. I was totally wowed by her performance. At a restaurant the other night, no one at my dinner table knew who she was. Pretty soon everyone will know who she is. She has four movies yet to be releassed this year. I could not imagine anyone else doing this role as well, except perhaps a young Helen Mirren.
Jesper Christensen delivers an astounding performance as the doctor, perhaps I am supposed to feel shock and outrage, yet I found it gripping and strangely delicious to watch the psychological cat and mouse game between him and her.
Helen Mirren, shows a harder edge as the older Rachel, always a gripping presence, and I would be surprised if she is not nominated for best supporting actress.
I love movies with a heroic female protagonist. When plans go awry, she steps out of the shadows looking for a light, she ventures into the stirrups, and she fights. She feels the fear and does it anyway. She is an everywoman required to do desperate things. Other movies with great female protagonists would be Black Book, and The Girl Who Played With Firemovies. I wish Hollywood would make make more movies like these. All these are European movies.
If you're like me, you may wonder what exactly is meant by the debt? Is it generational? Is it karmic? Will the truth release us?
We can ask if there is a moral equivalence in entering another country to seize someone illegally so they can face a legal trial. How legal would such a trial be? Let us remember that there may be times when special forces need to go on a secret mission to find an elusive terrorist, perhaps in Pakistan, reponsible for thousands of civilian deaths, and a continuous threat. Those who live by the sword die by the sword.
If you want to see the original The Debt (subtitled), there are story differences. In particular there is a scene where she shaves him, where he says 'why don't you kill me?' where she gives an interesting response, not in the remake. I prefer the original ending.
I recommend Munich (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) by Spielberg, an excellent thriller and story about Mossad agents responding to the massacre at the Munich Olympics which won five Oscar nominations including Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay, and The Readerwhich won five Academy nominations including Best Picture, and an Oscar for Kate Winslet, a post WW2 drama, because both have thematic similarities, and Blackbook, which I own, a Verhoeven movie.
I don't think there has ever been been an Oscar given or even a nomination to two actresses playing the same character in the same movie. It would make a good story, would it not? I think you will love it, and I hope this was helpful.
I am rather feeling that I am getting repetitive when I say “remakes are a dime-a-dozen” these days, but this is actually fact. I usually don’t like remakes, though there are a few that were arguably better than the original in my view (John Carpenter‘s “the Thing“, Cronenberg‘s “The Fly“, the Coen’s “True Grit” and the more recent “I Spit on Your Grave“ to name some). Director John Madden’s “The Debt” … more
Even the best secret agents carry a debt from a past mission. Rachael Singer must now face up to hers... 'The Debt' directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) is the story of what happens when the lie you've been living for decades finally catches up to you. What do you do? The year is 1997. Rachel (Helen Mirren) and her husband Stephan (Tom Wilkinson) retired Mossad secret agents learn that their former colleague, … more
Star Rating: According to Wikipedia, the modern-day definition of a hero is a character that, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, displays courage and the willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. The Debt tells the story of three people who may or may not fit this description. I have to be careful with my wording here, since the film depends on a great deal of secrecy – and to my great surprise and delight, very few … more
THE DEBT Written by Matthew Vaughan, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan Directed by John Madden Starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain and Tom Wilkinson Stephan Gold: Truth is a luxury. Debt has always been something of a dirty word but hopefully the anxiety it inspires in people won’t keep them away from the new John Madden film, entitled THE DEBT. Those who do see it will be swept up in a whole other kind of restless stress, the kind only a good thriller … more
The Debt, an exceptional thriller, works on many levels. Its structure has just enough pay-attention moments that some viewers will be confused if they don’t. That’s big plus for me. The plot is about a search by three Mossad agents for a Nazi war criminal, the Surgeon of Birkenau. They plan to take him alive and return with him to Israel to stand trial. There are tense, queasy scenes that range from gynecology exams to insidious attempts to undermine the three by the doctor. There is … more