Friday, September 2, 2011

The Debt

The Debt - ***1/2

Directed by:  John Maddon

Starring: Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Tom Wilkenson

Review:  There is a scene in ‘The Debt’ in which Rachel (Chastain) is desperately trying to open the door and leave her apartment.  Her two cohorts David and Stephane won’t allow her and eventually she breaks down and starts crying.  This is the most powerful scene in the entire movie.  Rachel realizes at this point what path is ahead of her and she realizes that she will carry the weight of that future with her for the rest of her life.  The weight of that includes the entire weight of Israel, their home country.

Rachel, David, and Stephane are Mossad agents for Israel and they are charged with the responsibility of finding, capturing, and bringing to trial the “Surgeon of Berkenau” a sadistic Nazi war criminal who ran ghastly experiments on captive Jews during World War II.  It is important for them to find him and bring him to trial so the world can be a witness to what he did to the Jewish people and know that justice was served on this monster.

For these three individuals this is not about revenge, this is about their country.  They are trying to bring this man to justice for their country.  Eventually the weight of this task, through extenuating circumstances, affects all of them in different ways.   It can’t be easy carrying the weight and pride of your country on your shoulders, specifically when that pride comes from your country lauding you all for actions you are not proud of taking.

It’s hard to imagine having such a responsibility and having it turn out as it did for these three (I am being intentionally vague to not give away plot points).  The reason why Rachel’s breakdown scene is so powerful comes from the fact that you can see that she knows what will happen, or at least what she believes will happen at that time, but she knows that memories of this will be carried with her for the rest of her life.  No matter what other missions she goes on, no matter what life brings to her, this event in her life will permeate her existence every day of her life.

Some people have the ability to make peace with their actions and realize that what they have done is the best for themselves and for their country.  Others want to do what’s right and can’t live with doing things the incorrect way.  And the rest fall in the gray area somewhere in between.  Knowing an action is the best doesn’t mean you believe in it.  Every day that goes by just increases the weight on the shoulders of these three individuals.  They are consistently applauded for their actions and through the years they are able to convince themselves it was the right thing to do. 

However, just as they thought at the time, even if they could convince themselves otherwise, the truth behind their actions never goes away.  They know what they did and they have to make peace with it the best they know how.  It is a frightening circumstance and one that I could not imagine living with.  At its heart that’s what this movie is about, but if I have one gripe with it it’s that the movie doesn’t focus on that as much as they should.  They focus so much on the thriller/suspense aspect that they lose a bit of their characters in the process.  The directing was sharp and the editing top notch, but they chose not to focus as much on the characters as I believe the material warranted.  Furthermore, the ending offered far too much closure for such an open story.  There could have made a better ending but didn’t.

That being said this is an excellent film.  Well written, acted, directed, edited and everything.  This is a movie that is definitely worth your time.

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