Film Review: “The Debt” (2011)

A genuine jewel of a film examining the consequences of decisions made in youth that require persistent lying to sustain, then come to an inevitably sad culmination many years later. Very reminiscent of John LeCarre’s work.

Based on the 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov ( Polish language with English sub-titles).  It is the story of former Mossad agent Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren), involved in a botched plot to capture a notorious Nazi war criminal in 1965. The path of least resistance is taken by Rachel and her colleagues to save face for their country and themselves. The truth as a malleable component of “the right thing to do for the most concerned”.

The story is initially told from the vantage of a lie. Inevitably, the lie starts to unravel as all lies do. Now, many years later, Rachel must go back 30 years to find how to fit the truth into current reality. The dilemma is whether to liberate the truth, or further and more effectively conceal it. The truth as catharsis.

The segments filmed in austere, Cold War East Berlin are filled with unrelenting tension.  The characters are superbly portrayed by young, ascending actors including Jessica Chastain (the Help) and Sam Worthington (Avatar).  Their “future selves” – Tom Wilkinson, Irish actor Ciaran Hinds and the incomparable Helen Mirren bring the vicissitudes of youth into contemporary perspective.

“The Debt” moves along plausibly, maintains the viewer’s attention and at times is a real nail biter without trivializing the moral dilemmas that set it in motion. It’s an excellent film; a must see for the fall season.

I give it four and a half of five blood stained scissors.

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