“Maybe it's not always a blessing to survive.”
Movies claiming to be suspenseful rely too much on quick editing, blowing things up, and messy dialogue. This makes me question if anyone in Hollywood today has ever seen a Hitchcock movie or a Film Noir? In Hitchcock movies and Film Noirs the suspense came from the lack of dialogue, the acting by the actors or actresses and what they were able to convey without much dialogue and their body language, and the direction. There are probably quite a few films that have been made within the past five years that come to those Hitchcock and Film Noir style but most likely have not come as close as The Debt. Every line, every movement and facial expression from the actors, and every movement from the camera is filled with suspense.
Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren), her husband Stephan, and another man named David Peretz are venerated heroes in their home country of Israel. All three are former Mossad secret agents who, in 1965, captured and killed a man known as The Surgeon of Birkenau. Rachel’s daughter has just written a book about their story as agents and their assignment. The daughter is beyond proud of her mother who was the one who reportedly killed the Dieter Vogel, The Surgeon of Birkenau, after he had tried to escape. Rachel had struggled with Vogel before he got away. He slashed her face with a knife leaving what would be a permanent scar. The two fought but he overpowered her. Rachel was able to get up and go to a window where she aimed at a running Vogel and shot him dead.
Stephan with his bodyguards and minders go to pick up David to bring him to a party for the book. David is clearly agitated from the moment he opens the door. All the way to the car he is anxious. When he sees Stephan in the backseat of the car David jumps in front of a truck killing himself. The reason for David’s suicide becomes clear when Stephan gives Rachel an assignment. Word has gotten out that there is a man in a Ukrainian hospital claiming to be The Surgeon of Birkenau and a reporter wants to write his story. David, Stephan, and Rachel’s reputations as heroes will crumble if the truth of their failure and their lie is ever revealed.
In 1965 Rachel (Jessica Chastain in the younger role) was twenty-five years old. She is highly trained in marksmanship and krav maga. For her mission she has been sent with David Peretz (Sam Worthington in the younger role) and Stephan Gold to East Berlin to capture Dieter Vogel and bring him back to Israel to stand trial for his war crimes. Dieter is a doctor with his own practice. Rachel and David pretend to be a couple who are having trouble conceiving a child. This will allow Rachel to keep returning to Vogel before she is to drug him to take him away. The rest of the plan involves putting Vogel on a train that will smuggle him out of the country. The plan unfortunately does not go smoothly. Rachel was unable to give Vogel the full dose and at the train station Vogel wakes up in the back of a truck and honks the horn bringing attention to all of them.
David, Stephan, and Rachel manage to get away with Vogel but they are all now holed up in their apartment with the killer. Vogel is a smart man he talks to them and plays on their insecurities that he has witnessed. He looks for little cues in their body language when he says something to them that strikes a nerve. Eventually he gets the three agents to argue about certain things pitting them against each other.
One night Rachel is left alone with Vogel. He somehow manages to get out of his restraints and goes after her. From behind, he slices her face. The two fight but in the situation Vogel is able to overpower Rachel. He eventually gets away and is never seen or heard from again. When all is said and done Stephan proposes that they do not reveal the truth hat Vogel escaped because it would damage their reputation and their careers. Rachel does not like the idea but she goes along with it. David, from that day forward, struggles with the lie.
Thirty years later, when David returned to Israel after having been away for so many years, he wants to tell the truth. Rachel will not hear of it because of her daughter’s book. When she looks back on that conversation with him and their lie she now knows why David killed himself.
Rachel goes to the Ukrainian hospital. When she gets to the room to the man who is supposedly Vogel, she sees it is not Vogel just some old man telling stories. Before she leaves the room she writes a note for the reporter explain her story and the truth and for him to publish it. As she is leaving the hospital she sees a man notice her and then run up the stairs. She follows the man and sees it is the real Vogel. He confesses he should never have told the old man anything. The two have one last fight. Vogel stabs Rachel twice knocking her to the floor. She manages to stab Vogel in the back with a syringe which kills him as he walks down the hallway. The last scene is Rachel walking away bleeding.
The cast was fantastic. Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain are incredible actresses. They are able to take the material they are given and just make their characters so much more. You can see every ounce of guilt and pain and torment on their faces. No matter what Mirren or Chastain are in their acting is just so top notch I am in constant awe of them whenever I watch their movies. Sam Worthington was the same way you can see all his guilt and pain and torment on his face. Vogel was meant to be an evil, creepy, manipulative character and the actor played that to perfection. Every actor in this movie was perfection in their roles.
John Madden’s direction was great. His direction captured the characters emotions, movements, and even thoughts brilliantly. Madden, to me, really did not use quick shots or edits to capture the suspense of certain situations in the movie but he did not linger on any of them too long. Madden’s direction along with the acting really kept my attention and focus.
The Debt is a great movie. There are some moments that are a bit slower than others but for the most part the movie keeps a good pace. The story was a great mix of suspense, thriller, and drama much like Hitchcock and Noir movies are. The Debt is an excellent movie that I highly suggest watching.