The Debt

We are not animals.  You remember what we are and what we are not.

Consider Israel.  Here is a country built for a people, by a people.  Let’s put the political circumstances to one side because I want to make a different point.  This country funded the search and apprehension for Nazi war criminals.  They funded the search and assassination of those behind the Munich massacre and terrorists generally.  Though these are highly charged with revenge, they are also extra-national.  Did the moral obviousness of the first venture lead to the second and ought America continue its logical execution?

Anyway, I saw this movie the other day…

Rachel (Jessica Chastain/Helen Mirren), David (Ciarán Hinds/Sam Worthington), and Stephan (Marton Csokas/Tom Wilkinson) are Mossad–coolest secret agency name ever–agents who are tasked with  apprehending a Nazi war criminal, the surgeon of Birkenau, Vogel (Jesper Christensen), in East Berlin.  They confirm that it is Vogel and they apprehend him, but things go wrong, and I’m not just talking about the love triangle forming.  Back and forth through time we go, flashing back between 1997 (‘now’) and 1966 (the time of the apprehension).

The Debt (2010), directed by John Madden, is the first really good plot movie I’ve seen in a while.  Thanks, guys.  It also shows that flashbacks don’t need to be a waste of time.  Let the story come through and don’t waste your time making an emotional point at every scene–*cough* J. Edgar (2011) *cough*.  The direction is functional and unintrusive and the dialogue is sharp.  Bravo.

All actors involved do very well indeed, especially the young and older Davids, Hinds and Worthington.  I have a lot of hope for Worthington, especially after Avatar (2009) and Terminator Salvation (2009) (whose failures were not his), but man’s got to learn how to choose more wisely.  Hinds is rightly well established and does the best work of the movie. The only problem is that David, the best character, gets the least time to shine.

Mirren and Chastain get the most screen time and you may be surprised that Chastain probably put in the better of two good performances.  Mirren also has to be involved in one of the strongest (as in most painful looking) geriatric fight scenes of all time.  She’s still got it, if still is the word I want.

What more could you want?

It’s not a thinker, but it can be a primer for the question I asked at the top.  There are secret agencies that exist to stop attacks from occurring or collecting information.  Those are the uncontroversial ones.  But here, Mossad is an agency that is also there to do some ethical dirty work.  That’s when things get a little controversial.

I’m going to add under the secret agency work the assassination of bin Laden by the Navy SEALs.  If we could do this sort of thing regularly, and let’s include apprehension/extraction for balance, shouldn’t we keep doing so?  I’d hate to think there was some kind of quota or political balancing every time we see an opportunity, as in “Well, we can’t grab this evil-doer because we can’t seem to be a bully.”

Oh be quiet, I can call them evil-doers if I want to.  Are you really going to bring up some kind of ludicrous moral equivalency?  Just because a psycho thinks he’s not doing evil doesn’t make him right.  Just because we’re being moralistic doesn’t make us wrong.  Of all the colonialist wrongs of which America may be guilty, apprehending terrorists isn’t one of them.

If you happen to notice that this review got 200 words longer, it’s because I’ve gone back and forth on putting the prior three paragraphs in the review.  Well, now it’s back in.  But it’s roughly irrelevant.

The Debt is worth buying because it will always entertain you.  That’s what a movie collection is for.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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