MOVIE: The Debt (2011)

This incredibly entertaining (though requiring a bit of a “suspend your disbelief” attitude) movie tells the story of a group of Mossad agents who, in 1966, were given the task of taking out the hiding-in-East-Berlin “Surgeon of Birkenau,” Dieter Vogol, and who, 30 years later, find themselves caught in a lie that could be their undoing.

First, the 1966:  Experienced agent Stefan (Marton Csokas) has teamed up with younger agent David (Sam Worthington, who: borrrrring!) after finally having tracked Vogol down.  When they discover he’s an OB/GYN in Berlin, they request the assistance of a female agent, and are sent Rachel (Jessica Chastain), who looks like you could knock her over with a good sneeze, but who instead is a martial arts master who would probably pop you in the chin while she yelled “GESUNDHEIT, ALREADY” in your face (she’s bad ass, is what I’m saying — I liked her immensely).

Their plan forms quickly:  Rachel and David will pose as a married couple having trouble conceiving a child, get inside the clinic, and then kidnap Vogol.  From there, with the help of the Israeli government, they’ll smuggle him onto a train and back into West Berlin, where he’ll be taken away and tried for war crimes.  Rachel goes to a few (extremely creepy) appointments first, to get the lay of the land, so to speak, and then successfully manages to inject Vogol with a sedative, claiming he had a heart attack during the exam, while David and Stefan pose as ambulance drivers to whisk him off to the “hospital.”

At first, the plan goes smoothly, until a screw-up at the train depot leaves them stuck with Vogol indefinitely.  If they can’t get him out of East Berlin, their only choice is to take him home and hide him until they can.   And so they do, managing to keep him alive for weeks on end, despite the fact they all desperately want to kill him every time he opens his disgusting anti-Semitic mouth.

But one night, everything goes wrong and Vogol gets loose, knocking Rachel down, slicing open her face, and running out into the street.  Rachel manages to crawl to her gun, takes aim at his back through the open window and. . .

Cut to present day, and the now-older Rachel (Helen Mirren) is attending a  book release party for her daughter, who has written a book about the group’s extraordinary capture of Dieter Vogol.  Stefan (Tom Wilkinson) shows up, but there’s no sign of David (Ciarán Hinds) and when Rachel learns he committed suicide earlier that same day, she demands to know what Stefan knows — because he clearly knows something.  And that’s when we, the audience, learn the truth about Vogol and what happened to him after he fled that apartment thirty years ago.  It’s a truth that could ruin Rachel and Stefan’s lives, the lives of their daughter and her family (oh yeah, I left the love triangle part out — blah blah Rachel loves David but has sex with Stefan, she gets preggers, blah blah etc., yawn) and devastate Israel in general.  And it’s a truth Stefan wants to keep hidden, at any cost, and that only Rachel is physical able to erase.

Though there were many elements of the story that seemed a little too unbelievable or coincidental, I was absolutely riveted by this movie from start to finish.  The scenes from 1966 are thrilling and pack a strong emotional wallop as well (try to imagine, if you will, getting a pelvic exam from a monster — not once, but thrice).  And while the present-day scenes were much less evocative for me, the acting prowess of the stars of that half of the film is undeniable.  I mean, come on:  Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciarán Hinds?  If they were the only three actors in any movie ever again, I’d be perfectly content.

This is not a flawless film, but I was surprised by how deeply engrossed I was in  it.  Never a dull moment, and lots of truly good ones to boot.

Definitely recommended, though you’re safe waiting for DVD, I would say.  Ciarán Hinds on the big screen is a lovely, lovely thing, but, you know, then he gets hit by a bus.

(SPOILER, I guess, except I usually don’t count anything that happens in the first 15 minutes of a film terribly spoilery.)

Incidentally, how do you pronounce the name Ciarán?  I keep meaning to look that up and not getting around to it.  And have any of you seen the original Israeli film?  Worth checking out?

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre: Thriller
Cast:  Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Jesper Christensen, Marton Csokas, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Wilkinson, Romi Aboulafia, Melinda Korcsog

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3 Responses to “MOVIE: The Debt (2011)”

  1. Brian Toohey Says:

    Ironically, Meg, I think Ciaran Hinds looks incredibly like an older Martin Csokas. So having him play the older Sam Worthington role was a little odd. And as much as I’m a Tom Wilkinson fan, I would have liked to have seen Ciaran Hinds in the Wilkinson role. But I guess Wilkinson is the larger name as these things go, and thus he got the larger part.

  2. RogerBW Says:

    In England I think it’s usually [kI:r\@n] (using http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-SAMPA) – same as we’d pronounce the name Kieran.

  3. Trip Says:

    Most English speakers pronounce it as “KEER-in”, but in the Irish language, a fada over the vowel always lengthens it, so it’s technically pronounced “KEER-awn”. (He’s from Belfast.)

    I’m sure he wouldn’t mind either way – the Irish language is notoriously difficult to master, and most actual Irish people have a hard time with it despite years of schooling.

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