"Truth Is Never a Luxury"
You can always run from the past; chances are that it will catch up with you. That’s the message of THE DEBT, a riveting thriller about Israeli agents bringing former Nazi butchers to justice.
It is Berlin, 1965. At considerable personal risk, Special Mossad agents Rachel (Jessica Chastain), Stephan (Martin Csokas) and David (Sam Worthington) do whatever it takes to track down Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel, the feared Surgeon of Birkenau, and bring him to justice.
The plan hinges on Rachel, a former translator, who’s on her first field operation. Rachel schedules regular gynecological examinations with the suspect, a former Nazi doctor who experimented on women and children. When his identity is confirmed, and the time is right, the team strikes.
Their mission is a great success. Upon their return to Israel, the three agents are revered for decades. Now, in 1997, they are even the heroes of a new book, written by Rachel’s daughter. However, something in the past haunts them, and it’s ready to come to light.
Suddenly but calmly, David (now played by Ciáran Hinds) calmly steps in front of an 18-wheeler and commits suicide. In the wake of David’s suicide, Rachel (played by Academy-Award winner Helen Mirren) and Stephan (two-time Academy-Award nominee Tom Wilkinson) must face the consequences of a decision they made more than 30 years before. Part of this secondary plot involves a drunken one-night stand and an unintended pregnancy.
At the end of the day, Rachel must decide whether to become the monster herself or tell the world the truth, even at great personal cost.
THE DEBT is one of this year’s most powerful, moving and disturbing movies, with stunning performances across the board. The pairing of Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren is particularly notable. The topic is a profoundly difficult and important one. It is regrettable, however, that more of the violence could not be kept off-screen, and that the subplot – crafted to reveal the protagonist’s weaknesses – gravitates around immoral actions (including Rachel’s pregnancy after a drunken one-night stand). Yet, with its strong, complex storyline and impeccable character arcs, THE DEBT is a well-crafted thriller, sure to enthrall mature, values-oriented audiences, and likely to garner the attention of critics. In spite of the secondary plot’s moral shortcomings, the final message of this movie is clear: Truth is never a luxury. Only it can set us free.
(BBB, C, Ab, Fe, Ho, LL, VVV, S, NN, AA, D, MM) Very strong dominant moral worldview, whereby the protagonist must face her past and face up to lifelong deception by putting the greater good and the truth above her own reputation and even that of her family, with a minor off-the-cuff reference to the Judeo-Christian God but no explicit exploration of faith influencing the heroine’s decision, Nazi doctor makes anti-Semitic remarks, strong female protagonist working for the dominantly male Israeli central intelligence office (MOSSAD), and character briefly jokes about a male agent being homosexual (he is in fact not); 10 obscenities (mostly the “f” word), in concentrated doses and mostly uttered by one single male character; graphic violence connected to the action topic of the movie (but at times excessive), including man runs in front of 18-wheeler to commit suicide with graphic footage of his body crushed by the wheels of the truck, antagonist tied and gagged, man violently slams woman in face and throws her against wall then kicks her bloody face, lots of physical training in hand-to-hand combat, images of the Holocaust includes medical experimentation on women and children, woman stabs man with needle and restrains him with her legs around his neck during gynecological exam, agent hits and knocks out guard, shooting, man runs soldier over with truck, force feeding, tied up man urinates himself (because he resists going to bathroom), agent beats up Nazi suspect, woman slaps man, man violently stabs woman with medical scissors, and she stabs him in leg, with lots of blood; implied fornication, female agent has drunken one-night stand and gets pregnant during the mission out of wedlock with man she does not love after attempting to seduce another agent but she marries the father of her child later, married woman briefly considers leaving with another man but ultimately picks her unfaithful husband and daughter, kissing, man taps woman on rear end, two journalists kiss, make out and are later heard off screen; naked buttocks of woman visible under her clothes as she makes out with man and woman comes out of a bathroom wearing only a towel twice; alcohol use and drunkenness; smoking and purchasing of cigarettes; and, agents break into and steal truck needed for their mission and impersonate ambulance drivers, female agent impersonates a patient to get closer to Nazi doctor, agents decide to dissimulate their failure by crafting an alternate story and lying to their superiors, their family and the world, and male agent attempts to convince the others not to reveal the truth after 30 years.
THE DEBT is a spy thriller about three Israeli agents bringing former Nazi butchers to justice. In Berlin in 1965, they are on the trail of Dieter Vogel, the feared Surgeon of Birkenau, a former Nazi doctor who experimented on women and children. The plan hinges on Rachel, a former translator, who’s on her first field operation. Rachel schedules regular physical exams with a suspect. When his identity is confirmed, the team strikes. Their mission is a great success. Upon their return to Israel, the three agents are revered for decades. Now, in 1997, they are even the heroes of a new book, written by Rachel’s daughter. However, something in the past haunts them, and it’s ready to come to light.
THE DEBT is one of this year’s most powerful, moving and disturbing movies, with stunning performances across the board. More of the violence could have been kept off screen, however. Also, the past haunting the characters involves some immoral actions. There is also some strong foul language. Despite this cautionary material, the message of THE DEBT is clear: Truth is never a luxury; only it can set us free.