“The Debt” Movie Review

“The Debt” is a suspense filled thriller with passion, espionage, morality, courage, patriotism and tragedy as part of the film which debuted August 31, 2011.  The film is a remake of the award-winning 2007 movie entitled “Ha-Hov” by Assaf Bernstein & Ido Rosenblum. An Israeli-Mossad team of three in 1967 attempt the capture of former Nazi concentration camp doctor, Dieter Vogel, known as the Surgeon of Birkenau, (modeled after Josef Mengele.) The covert mission takes place in Communist controlled East Germany where the Doctor is working as a gynecologist. The secret operatives need to return him to Israel for trial of his war crimes.

Director John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) uses flashback editing and unique cinematography in this 1 hour and 44 minute film. He forces the viewer to think throughout the storyline trying to connect all the dots for 30 years.  From a 1967 secret mission where three Mossad secret service agents in East Germany vow to stay true to one another to a book launch in Tel Aviv, Israel  in 1997 where the daughter of two of the operatives has immortalized them as heroes with her “tell all” book about the mission. 

British screenwriter Matthew Vaughn with Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan, probe the morality of Mossad’s pursuit of Nazis war criminals. The film leaves the viewer wondering about the State of Israel and the possible reflection of the events in the past.

Helen Mirren, Academy Award-winner for “The Queen”, Tom Wilkinson of “The Full Monty” and Ciraran Hinds of “There Will Be Blood prortray the 3 Mossad Secret agents in 1997.  Jesica Chastain of “The Help”, Marton Csokas of “Alice In Wonderland and Sam Worthington of “Avatar” repectively play the younger characters in 1967.

The three “Mossad” protagonists, exemplify loyally to country which was also expressed in the film “Munich” after the 1972 Olympics where 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian militant group. In that film directed by Steven Spielberg he explored the modus operandi of the Mossad group which is a unique culture with specific behavior traits.  Many television viewers today can relate to the character “Ziva David” in the TV series NCIS who is also a trained Mossad agent and is easy to relate to.

The film depicts some rather intense anti-Semitic mind games, which Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) enacts with deep conviction. Dealing with the heinous crimes this man committed the three agents end up perpetrating a deception that lasts for decades.  The suspense toggles between the two different time periods and suddenly they are forced to pay for the secrets they left behind during the covert mission in East Germany. Idealism becomes at risk and there are scenes which exude shivering suspense as well as sexual tension in a love triangle.

My personal experience in Israel the summer of 1972 left me with the awareness that the Israelites live with the threat of suicide boomers and attack in public places on a daily basis.  I felt the fear at the Tel Aviv airport as our group disembarked the plane and the yellow police tape blocked off part of the bombed airport facade as we entered the country.  A friend of mine from New York City had moved to Tel Aviv with her husband who was in the diamond business and explained that everyone in Israel was prepared for attempts to push them into the sea at any time.  Israel has lived with this anxiety for their people since Biblical times. The movie gives a peak into the thinking of the people and the sentiment they live with.

The film left me asking questions long after leaving the theater.  I pondered the political repercussions that could come about when deciding if “Truth is a luxury…” How do we know if military operations really happen the way they are reported?  How important is the truth? Is truth a luxury?  What happens if a mission is fails?  Could many of the newsworthy reports really be fabricated as exemplified by “Wag The Dog” a Barry Levinson film with Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman.  In “Wag the Dog,” where a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer before elections, join efforts to “fabricate” a war in order to cover-up a presidential sex scandal. What is Truth and what is fiction.

The film discusses truth as a luxury and speculation on how things might have been different. The three Mossad covert agents share mysteries, secrets, and lies. The Debt poses a huge ethical question haunting them all by asking…”Is Truth A Luxury?” In a place like Israel is, can misrepresentation ever serve a greater good?  At any time is can truth be a casualty of war? The movie demonstrates, the answer and is one of the reasons you should see the film.

If you like espionage thrillers, tragic love stories, morality themes that make you question reality and heart stopping suspense you will enjoy this film.

Is truth a luxury?  Find out and see “The Debt” this weekend!

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