Wednesday, August 17, 2011

the Debt

The remake of the 2007 Israel original "Ha-Hov" is brilliantly put together with an amazing cast and leverages the original without ignoring how good it was. The original received multiple nominations from the Israeli Film Academy for art direction, costumes, cinematography and supporting actress for Neta Garty's performance as young Rachel. The original didn't win any awards, but any time a film receives multiple nominations it generally is a sign that it was a good film. The story is about three retired Mossad secret agents that 30 years prior were involved in a secret mission where we bounce between the two time periods to build suspense in the thriller.

For the American version of "The Debt" the cast includes Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain as Rachel; Tom Wilkinson and Marton Csokas as Stephan; and CiarĂ¡n Hinds and Sam Worthington as David. The story begins in 1997 with the first deviation from the original as Sarah (Romi Aboulafia) the daughter of Rachel and Stephan is being honored during a book release of the secret mission her parents took part in during the 1960s as Mossad agents who captured Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), the feared "Surgeon of Birkenau", in East Berlin. In the original, it was Rachel that was publishing the book and I appreciate this change because it provides another layer of trust and honesty to the characters that helps with the decisions that are made later in the film. Shortly after the book release party, shocking news reaches Rachel and Stephan about their former colleague David. All three have been celebrated for decades by Israel, however a ghost from their past provides reason to recall the past events to discover the truth.

The performances from the entire cast were impressive in how they portrayed the same character from two separate points in time. This must have been tremendously difficult to do, which is why so often directors take a short-cut by falsely aging the actor. I appreciate the attention to the characters that each gave towards the continuity of the character and contribute equal praise to John Madden for navigating the cast through the partition to portray the two parts of the same person.

The Debt is figuratively a measure of truth and evoked in various moments of the film that is the urge for justice and the protection of innocence that is the impulse behind the decisions made in the film. It is also literally associated with the spiritual debt to the Jews that cannot be measured easily by the Nazis systematic extermination of six million Jews. Following the screening we were treated to Q&A with director John Madden who pointed out that the capture of Adolf Eichmann in 1962 was part of the research that he did when planning the film.

The film is absolutely brilliant with a powerful script that is artfully directed as a tense thriller and is a must see film. The original did not get much of a release, so hopefully, with the renewed interest; not only will the current version, but also the original will receive the attention it deserves. I believe that John Madden may receive a best director nomination for this film and I wouldn't be surprised if one of the actors/actresses receives some attention as well. This is a 5 Quack film that will hold true for years and for the young actors will be a film that will be referenced as the turning point in their careers.

(screening date 8/18/11, release date 8/31/11, location AMC Loews Georgetown)

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