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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review: The Debt

The Cost of History. The Price of Vengeance.

By Chris Sabga

Note: "The Debt" was released on this date seven years ago. Presented below are my thoughts from 2010, with only a few alterations made for clarity or to interject my current perspective.

Release Date: August 31, 2010 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Running Time: 113 minutes
Director: John Madden
Writers: Screenplay: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman, 
Peter Straughan. 
Original Film ("Ha-Hov"): Assaf Bernstein, 
Ido Rosenblum
Cast: Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds, 
Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, Sam Worthington, 
Jesper Christensen 

"The Debt" details the legend of three young Israeli agents and the dangerous secret mission they risked their lives to complete – or did they?

Their names are Rachel Singer, Stephan Gold, and David Peretz. Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciaran Hinds play the older versions of these characters, while Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington ("Avatar") do the heavy lifting as their younger incarnations.

This movie presents an intriguing fictional take on real-life historical events. It begins in 1997 as a book is being presented about the trio's exploits. Back in 1966, they were sent to capture a Nazi – the Butcher of Birkenau – who experimented on Jews during World War II.

Mirren, Wilkinson, and Hinds are all fine in their parts, but the film really belongs to Chastain, Csokas, and Worthington. When "The Debt" was first released in 2010, I don't think I had ever seen Chastain or Csokas before. They do a tremendous job. I remember thinking that Chastain must have been an unknown foreign talent – that's how convincing she is in this role. Obviously, the California-born actress has since gone on to great success. Worthington has the least flashy part, but it's a good performance considering how different it is from the charismatic, tough soldier he played in "Avatar."

The dreaded Butcher (portrayed by Jesper Christensen) is downright chilling at times. At first, he lulls the audience in with a false sense of security despite his odious character. But from time to time, his true roots will surface out of the blue, and you won't believe some of the truly ugly things he says. Even after all these years, the Butcher remains one of the most detestable cinematic villains of the decade – because of the root of his evil comes from a very real and unfortunate place in human history.

Remade from the 1997 Israeli movie "Ha-Hov," "The Debt's" foreign roots are obvious right away from its feel and pacing alone. Hollywood generally doesn't make these types of films.

If you still haven't seen "The Debt," do yourself a favor and avoid reading or viewing anything about it. I went into the movie almost cold – aside from watching the trailer a few times – and that's definitely the best way to experience it.

"The Debt" isn't perfect – for example, I would've switched the roles Wilkinson and Hinds played – but it presents a number of interesting themes.

Does the burden of truth outweigh the legacy of history? Or as Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman so eloquently stated, "In a place that’s as haunted by history as Israel is, can a lie ever really serve to prop up a larger truth?"

Does the price of justice come at too high a cost?

And is it ever too late to seek revenge?