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The Debt | Movie Review

If you made the crowd who read Safari magazine through 1990’s when it was published only in Gujarati, you would remember the war stories edited by Nagendra Vijay, ranging from the missions of the Indian armed forces during the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan to the exciting missions from the world wars.

Movie : The Debt
Director :
John Madden
Produced by : Matthew Vaughn, Kris Thykier
Screenplay by : , , ,
Based On : Ha-Hov by , Ha-Hov by
Music By : Thomas Newman
Editor : Alexander Berner
Cinematography :
Production company : Marv Films
Distributed by : Focus Features, Miramax
Released On :
Starring : Helen Mirren (Rachel Singer – in – 1997), Jessica Chastain (Rachel Singer – in – 1965 and 1970), Ciarán Hinds (David Peretz – in – 1997), Sam Worthington (David Peretz – in – 1965 and 1970), Tom Wilkinson (Stefan Gold – in – 1997), Marton Csokas (Stefan Gold – in – 1965 and 1970), Jesper Christensen (Dieter Vogel), Romi Aboulafia (Sarah Gold, daughter of Stefan and Rachel), and others…
Purchase Link(s) : N/A

Some of the most appealing stories of this lot were the adventures featuring Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, especially their long and arduous task in tracking the NAZI war criminals that escaped to as far as South America and Asia after the end of war in 1945.

The stories we read spoke of courage, determination, loyalty, compassion and perseverance. It was hard not to become an admirer of Israeli people, whether it was for their ingenuity to use “model” planes for surveillance in the five-army-war or their courage to never bow down to terrorists hijacking their planes.

It is also true however that the publicized stories are usually the success stories, especially for a young nation surrounded by enemies and fighting for survival. 50 years after independence is a different time though and the 2007 film called “Ha-Hov” or “HaChov” in Hebrew (meaning the debt) talks of a fictitious mission that did not go as planned. Directed by Assaf Bernstein and featuring Gila Almagor, Yurjy Chepurnov and Oleg Drach as yesteryear Mossad agents, the film told the story of a lie that tainted the lives of these agents forever.

The film was re-made as an anglo-american adaptation called “The Debt” in 2010. Directed by John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” fame), the film was shown at various film festivals before a theater release in 2011. The cast comprised of Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds as a trio of Mosaad agents who went on a mission in 1964. Their younger selves are played by Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington, respectively.

Movie Trailer:

The Plot:

The film starts with a book launch party where Rachel Singer is being applauded for the courage she showed in 1965, in killing a war criminal called Dieter Vogel aka The surgeon of Birkenau when he tried to escape after assaulting her. We meet three young agents returning from their job and in splashes of flashback the story is unraveled.
Rachel arrives in East Germany to meet her fellow agent and pseudo husband David Peretz.

Stephan Gold is the leader of this team and the mission is to confirm the identity of Dieter Vogel and bring him back to Israel to face a trial.

Dieter Vogel is practicing as a gynecologist and Rachel becomes a patient of his, claiming an inability to conceive after 02 years of marriage. The doctor is cunning and is always full of tricky questions. Rachel is terrified and repulsed from him. She is highly vulnerable and it doesn’t help to live with two men in close confinement. She likes David.

David, however, lost his entire family in the holocaust and wants nothing more than to complete the mission. He likes Rachel, but wouldn’t provide the support she is looking for. In a moment of desperation, Rachel turns to Stephan, who is game for any pretty woman.
On the third visit to the doctor, Rachel injects him with an anesthetic and with help of David and Stephan smuggles him out of his clinic. Their plan is to get him across the Berlin Wall and into West Germany. But, Vogel recovers from the anesthetic before expected and raises an alarm. In desperation, they all flee to their flat in East Berlin with the authorities now on their trail.

They decide to keep him as a prisoner and take shifts to guard him, feed him, keep him decent. He is a very cunning prisoner though. He slowly starts to work on them, one after another. Resisting all efforts to keep him alive when it suits him, informing Rachel that she is pregnant, talking to her sympathetically about her dead mother, informing David that Rachel is carrying Stephan’s baby, saying malicious things about Jews, he tries every trick in the book until he breaks through their defenses.

The atmosphere in the flat has become unbearable, the men at the end of their tether to find a way out and Rachel battling morning sickness, emotional entanglement and mind games. They are all frustrated with no seeming solution, silently blaming one another for failure of the mission, cursing their luck, hoping for a break through and getting none – arguments turn into fights soon. And all this while Vogel is waiting for his chance. He gets it in form of a pottery shard when David assaults him. He cuts his bonds, attacks Rachel, giving her a scar on the face which will stay for life and runs. But Rachel recovers and in the last brave attempt shoots him.

That’s the story they told when they came back, but what did really happen?
We know that after returning, Rachel married Stephan and they had a daughter called Sara. They were not a happy couple and in the end divorced. Rachel drank and smoked heavily, Stephan rose to a position of power in the government and David just drifted away. Now almost thirty years later, David has come back, wanting to tell the truth.

But, what is the truth?

The lie that they have lived with for 30 years now has become almost the truth for Rachel and Stephan. What will be the impact on their family and the people of Israel, if the truth comes out now?

Whatever her choice may be, Rachel must become a Mosaad agent once more and face her demons. It is time she actually performed the act she took credit for through her life. The Debt is called and she must pay.

Views and Reviews

What makes the film believable is the humanness of the three young agents. They are prepared mentally, immensely trained physically, has acquired all the accomplishments required for the job, but they also carry their own burdens. Their entire generation lived in a shadow cast by holocaust. And their courage doesn’t fail them through the adventurous, the heroic part of their mission. No, it is the guilt of a failed mission, the endless monotony of the mundane chores, the uncertainty of future and perpetual fight with their vulnerabilities and internal monsters that makes them an apt prey to their enemy.

It is so typical of their characters as well, Stephan – headstrong, debonair, “devil-may-care” is also the first to succumb to temptation. David is the perpetual victim, retreating into his own shell the moment something goes wrong rather than exerting himself to change things.

But is mainly Rachel’s journey that we follow – emotional, courageous yet vulnerable, rejected by the man she loves, not able to love the man who wants her and gets her, seeking solace in a stronger will, conforming to conventions and no quite.

Final Verdict

The first half with the younger agents executing the mission is very well done, but the second half feels slow and dragging in the end. John Madden has focused much more on the love triangle and the emotional side of the characters than the original film.

But all in all, worth watching………….

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