The Debt (2010 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Madden|
|Produced by||Matthew Vaughn|
|Screenplay by||Matthew Vaughn|
by Assaf Bernstein
|Music by||Thomas Newman|
|Edited by||Alexander Berner|
|Distributed by||Focus Features|
|Box office||$45.6 million|
The Debt is a 2010 British-American remake of the 2007 Israeli alternate history-thriller film Ha-Hov, directed by John Madden from a screenplay by Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan. It stars Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Wilkinson, Marton Csokas and Jesper Christensen.
Although ready for release already in July 2010, and scheduled for a December 2010 release in the United States, the film only toured various film festivals during the autumn of 2010 and spring of 2011. It didn't see a general release until it was released in France on 15 June 2011, followed by Kazakhstan and Russia in July 2011, and United States, Canada and India on 31 August 2011.
In 1997, Rachel is honoured by her daughter Sarah during a release party in Tel Aviv for Sarah's book based on the account Rachel, Stefan and David gave of the events in 1965. Concurrently, David is escorted from his apartment by an Israeli government agent for a debriefing. David recognises Stefan waiting in another vehicle and unable to face their lie, he commits suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming truck.
In 1965, a young Mossad agent Rachel Singer on her first field assignment arrives in East Berlin to meet with more experienced agents David Peretz and Stefan Gold. Their mission is to capture Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel—infamously known as "The Surgeon of Birkenau" for his medical experiments on Jews during World War II—and bring him to Israel to face justice. Rachel and David present themselves as a married couple from Argentina and Rachel becomes a patient at Vogel's obstetrics and gynaecology clinic.
At a doctor appointment, Rachel injects Vogel with a sedative during an examination and induces the nurse to believe that he has suffered a heart attack. Stefan and David arrive dressed as paramedics and make off with the unconscious Vogel in an ambulance. They attempt to leave by train, but Vogel awakens and sounds the horn of the van where he is being held, alerting guards to their presence. In the ensuing shootout, David sacrifices his chance to escape in order to save the compromised Rachel. The agents have no choice but to bring Vogel to their apartment and plan a new extraction.
The agents take turns monitoring and feeding Vogel while leaving him chained to the wall heater. During his shift, David becomes violently enraged after Vogel explains his beliefs that Jews have many weaknesses, such as selfishness, making them easily subdued. David smashes a glass plate over Vogel's head and repeatedly beats him, only to be stopped and restrained by Stefan. Later on, Stefan and David go out, leaving Rachel home to monitor Vogel by herself. After managing to cut through his bonds using a shard of the broken plate, Vogel ambushes Rachel with the shard, leaving her with a permanent scar on her face and escapes. Panicking and hoping to save face, Stefan convinces Rachel and David to go along with the fiction that Vogel was killed. They agree to lie and use the cover story that Rachel shot and killed Vogel as he attempted to flee.
In the following years, the agents become venerated as national heroes for their roles in the mission. At a dinner after their daughter's book release party, Stefan takes Rachel aside to set a meeting to discuss new information he has obtained. Later, at David's flat, Stefan provides evidence that Vogel is in a Mental Hospital in Ukraine, and is soon scheduled to be interviewed by a local journalist.
David had been investigating the man at Stefan's request and killed himself out of fear that the lie would be exposed. Rachel refutes Stefan's explanation, recalling an encounter with David a day before his suicide, in which he revealed his shame about the lie and disclosed that he had spent years unsuccessfully searching the world for Vogel. He was further disheartened by Rachel's admission that she would continue propagating the lie to protect those closest to her, particularly her daughter.
Nevertheless, at the direction of Mossad, Rachel finally feels compelled to travel to Kiev. She investigates the journalist's lead and is able to travel to the asylum. She reaches the room just minutes before the journalist and discovers the man claiming to be Vogel is not him. Describing the encounter to Stefan over the phone, Rachel declares she will not continue to lie about the 1965 mission. She leaves a note for the journalist and suddenly spots the real Vogel among the other patients and follows him to an isolated area of the hospital.
After a confrontation in which Vogel stabs her twice with scissors, Rachel kills Vogel by plunging a poisoned syringe into his back. Later Rachel's note is discovered and read by the journalist. It describes the truth of the mission, ready to be relayed to the world.
- Helen Mirren as Rachel Singer in 1997
- Jessica Chastain as Rachel Singer in 1965 and 1970
- Ciarán Hinds as David Peretz in 1997
- Sam Worthington as David Peretz in 1965 and 1970
- Tom Wilkinson as Stefan Gold in 1997
- Marton Csokas as Stefan Gold in 1965 and 1970
- Jesper Christensen as Dieter Vogel
- Romi Aboulafia as Sarah Gold
- Yonatan Uziel as Mossad Agent
Israeli papers reported that Mirren was "immersing herself" in studies of the Hebrew language, Jewish history and Holocaust writings, including the life of Simon Wiesenthal, while spending time in Israel in 2009 to shoot scenes in the film. "My character is carrying the memory, anger and passion of the Holocaust," she said.
The film premiered at the Deauville American Film Festival in France on 4 September 2010, followed by 2010 Toronto International Film Festival on 14 September 2010, and various other festivals during the autumn of 2010 and spring of 2011.
The film was ready to be released already in early July 2010, when it was submitted to the British Board of Film Classification, and Miramax had originally announced plans to release it in the United States on December 29, 2010, and it quickly began to appear on lists of possible 2011 Oscar contenders. However, the film was one of two that had their official opening dates delayed until 2011 because of the transfer of Miramax from its previous owner Disney and the new owner Filmyard.
The film saw its first general release in France on 15 June 2011, followed by Kazakhstan and Russia in July 2011, and United States, Canada and India on 31 August 2011.
The film has received generally positive response among critics and viewers. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 76% of the 158 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average critical score of 6.5/10. The site's consensus states, "Its time-shifting narrative creates distracting casting problems, but ultimately, The Debt is a smart, well-acted entry in a genre that could use more like it." Metacritic, a review aggregator which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 65 based on 37 reviews. Victoria Alexander of Films in Review said of the film, "The twists are shocking and mesmerizing. A high wire, intelligent espionage thriller. It is one of the best movies of 2011."
Maybe the problem is a structure that cuts around in time. Three characters, six actors, and although the woman is always presumably Rachel, I was sometimes asking myself which of the two men I was seeing when younger. In a thriller, you must be sure. I suspect this film would have been more effective if it had remained entirely in the past, especially given all we know.
Richard Middleton-Kaplan cited the film as a recent example of a work playing to the myth of Jewish passivity during the Holocaust, because the Mossad agents do not effectively rebut the doctor's claims:
Contrasted against presumed Jewish passivity is the doctor’s own resistance as he fights against his captors, kicking, spitting in their faces, laughing at their authority, and ultimately escaping; in short, he does everything that Jews are assumed not to have done. The audience is left to wonder why, if this old doctor was able to escape from his captors, Jews were not able to fight back and escape theirs.
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- "The Debt (2011)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 20, 2011.
- "Three take roles in John Madden's 'Debt'". Hollywoodreporter.com. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
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- "Mirren Learning Hebrew For Movie Role". Contactmusic.com. 27 February 2009. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
- Pilkington, Mark (August 2011). "Helen Mirren's Secret", Cineplex Magazine.
- "TIFF Rolling Out Films that Cannes Missed". The Globe and Mail. July 28, 2010.
- "'TIFF The Debt' Movie Review - RopeofSilicon". Ropeofsilicon.com. 14 September 2010. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
- "Trailer for 'The Debt' Starring Worthington and Mirren". RopeofSilicon.com, July 20, 2010.
- "Preliminary 2011 Oscar Contenders: Part Two". RopeofSilicon.com, March 16, 2010.
- Finke, Nikki (11 October 2010). "Lagging Miramax Deal Delays Two Films". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
- "The Debt". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 1, 2011.
- "The Debt". Metacritic. Retrieved November 1, 2011.
- Alexander, Victoria (September 20, 2011). "The Debt". Films in Review. Retrieved July 9, 2012.
- Ebert, Roger. "The Debt". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
- Middleton-Kaplan, Richard (2014). "The Myth of Jewish Passivity". In Henry, Patrick. Jewish Resistance Against the Nazis. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. pp. 3–26. ISBN 9780813225890.