We have all seen movies having to deal with the Holocaust and the effects it had on the entire world. We have seen the monstrosities fleshed out in disturbing ways on screen with movies such as Schindler’s List (1993), The Grey Zone (2001), and The Pianist (2002). But there aren’t many well-known films that deal with the aftermath, even in a fictionalized way. The Debt (2011), starring Academy Award winner Helen Mirren (The Queen), Sam Worthington (Avatar), Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life), and Jesper Christensen (Casino Royale), presents us with one of those films.
The film begins with a banquet. In 1966, three Israeli Mossad agents, David Peretz, Rachel Singer, and Stephan Gold (Worthington, Chastain, and Marton Csokas of The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring) were sent into East Berlin to capture the Surgeon of Birkenau (Christensen). Their mission was simply to capture him and bring him to trial to face retribution for the evil he’d committed during the Holocaust. But something went wrong, and the mission ended, not in a courtroom, but on the streets of Berlin. During this banquet in 1997, Rachel Singer (Mirren) reads an excerpt from the book her daughter (played by Romi Aboulafia) wrote, we are presented with the last part of this mission, when a 25-year old Rachel (Chastain) singlehandedly ends the mission.
But something is not right. As an older Rachel is confronted by Stephan (played by Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson of Michael Clayton), she begins to relive her mission. What we find is that the mission portrayed to the public might not be necessarily what actually ensued in the streets of East Berlin all those years ago.
This film gives itself a challenge. It contains six actors for three characters. If you, as a viewer, do not pay attention to what is going on, you will be lost. You’ll be constantly trying to figure out whether or not Wilkinson or Ciarán Hinds (Munich) is David Peretz or Stephan Gold. The details are there if you listen for them, but it’s obvious that it will be missed by some. I don’t believe this factor hurts the film in the slightest, but I can definitely see where it would cause confusion and distaste for the style.
The acting spanned across a generation and was superbly done. Chastain and Mirren mirrored each other to a tee. Because of the different actors for each character, the film was more believable. It was almost as if each actor studied their counterpart to achieve every little detail, from body language to facial expressions. The direction of Academy Award nominee John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) combined each element of film into one superbly done piece of art.
I found out after researching the history of this film (like why it took a year for it to be released in the United States), that it’s based on a 2007 film of the same name. The 2007 film did not make it to the United States, so I’m glad Miramax and Focus Features picked it up to release mainstream. With a mixture of action, mystery and romance, The Debt (2010) will definitely be two hours well spent.
Little Rock Movie Examiner’s rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars
MPAA rating: R
Minimum Age Group: Late High School
Sexuality: Passionate kisses, implied sex, a couple of references
Language: Two scenes of extremely strong language
Drugs/Alcohol: casual smoking/drinking
Violence: A couple of intense and violent scenes, fighting, gunplay
Themes/Issues: Holocaust, war, conspiracies
Other films you may like: The Bourne Identity (2002), The Interpreter (2005), Munich (2005), Valkyrie (2008)
Similar films coming out soon: In Time (October 28), J. Edgar (November 9), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (December 9), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (December 21)