Cast: Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren), Stephan Gold (Marton Csokas, Tom Wilkinson), David Peretz (Sam Worthington, Ciarán Hinds), Dieter Vogel/Dr. Bernhardt (Jesper Christensen)
Director: John Madden
Theatrical release: 08/31/2011 DVD Date: 12/06/2011
Rating: R Running Time: 113 minutes
Note(s): Based on the 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov by Assaf Bernstein and Ido Rosenblum.
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Review: Three former Mossad agents, today recognized as heroes in their country, are forced to revisit the past when a document surfaces that causes one of them to kill himself, the other two to question what action they should take now — if any — in The Debt, an English-language remake of the 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov.
The year is 1965 and three young agents — Rachel Singer, Stephen Gold, and David Peretz —converge in East Berlin on a secret mission to capture and return to Israel for trial the notorious Dieter Vogel, the "Surgeon of Birkenau", known for his medical atrocities against the Jews during World War II. He was long thought to have been dead, but recent intelligence suggests he is now running a fertility clinic in the city. The three agents devise a scheme to smuggle Vogel — who now goes by the name of Bernhardt — out of East Germany but the plans go awry and they are forced to detain him in their rented apartment. When he attempts an escape, Rachel shoots and kills him. They return to their homeland as heroes, and have lived as such for over 30 years. But now a report surfaces that Vogel may still be alive … and if proved to be true, could devastate the lives of the three. Indeed, one — David — kills himself before he can be questioned, leaving the others to make a crucial decision about what to do next.
The Debt is a well-told story, paced just about perfectly, and though the plot itself will likely offer no surprises to the viewer, it is suspenseful nonetheless. Though the events depicted here are fictional, this is not unlike a film based on a historical event; you know how it ends but the journey is still worth taking.
I cannot find fault with any of the principal actors; they are uniformly excellent in their roles. More than half the film takes place in 1965, just prior to and just after the mission, and vividly recreates the mid-1960s environment of Cold War Berlin. The last third or so takes place in the present — well, to be more accurate, 1997 — and outlines a new mission for the two surviving agents, one that offers a number of similarities but also an interesting contrast to their roles 30 some odd years previous.
My only serious quibble with the film is with how it ends. I don't mind films that end rather ambiguously, as this one does, allowing the viewer to write their own ending, as it were. But I think this film ends maybe 5 minutes too soon, that a little more should have been shown from which I could have drawn my conclusion. Still, this is probably more of a personal preference than anything else. I strongly recommend this film, both for its outstanding performances and intriguing storyline.