Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Apr 17th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

The Divine Miss M

film_thedebbtMirren shines in taut political thriller 'The Debt'

Is a painful truth better than an inspiring lie? How would one rate truth on a moral scale against national honor, vindication or justice? These are questions grappled with in The Debt, John Madden's gripping, tidily made (if at times, starkly visceral) suspense thriller about truth and its consequences. With a featured performance by the iconic Helen Mirren in one of her gutsiest roles, it's a persuasive, time-traveling political drama about how easily the facts can go astray in pursuit of a more appealing big picture.

Co-scripted by Matthew Vaughn (director of Layer Cake), his writing partner Jane Goldman (their collaborations include Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class), and Peter Straughn, The Debt is adapted from a 2007 Israeli film, Ha-Hov.

The plot unspools in two separate time frames. In 1965, a trio of young Israeli undercover Mossad agents go underground into East Germany on a dangerous mission behind the Berlin Wall. Thirty years later, the three ex-ops briefly reunite under unexpected circumstances.

In 1997, Rachel Singer (Mirren) is making public appearances in Tel Aviv with her daughter, Sarah (Romi Aboulafia), celebrating the publication of Sarah's book about her mother's exploits after World War II. Back in the '60s, Rachel and her two male colleagues, Stephan Gold and David Peretz, became international heroes as young Mossad agents who infiltrated East Berlin on a mission to track down a notorious Nazi war criminal known as the Surgeon of Birkenau and bring him to justice in the West. Her dutiful appearances at Sarah's book events bring Rachel into uneasy encounters with both Stephan (Tom Wilkinson), now a senior government investigator in a wheelchair, and David (a profoundly haunted Ciaran Hinds), who's been out of the country for decades.

A new wrinkle has developed in the case they all thought was long since closed, and as Rachel tries to come to grips with the situation, her memories of the original operation come flooding back. In these intense flashbacks, the young Rachel (Jessica Chastain) is a Mossad translator on her first assignment in the field. Crossing the barbed-wire border into East Berlin, she meets her colleagues for the first time: alpha-male team leader Stephan (Marton Csokas), and the more enigmatic David (Sam Worthington). Rachel and David are posing as a young German couple trying to have children, which brings her into the orbit of their target, former Nazi monster Dieter Vogel (imposing Danish actor Jesper Christensen), now a gynecologist at a neighborhood clinic.

Madden is best know for the gorgeous Shakespeare In Love, but here, he deftly cranks up the suspense as the parallel thriller plots play out in both time periods. The Berlin mission involves tapped phones, re-routed trains, vehicle chases, a breathtaking abduction, psychological warfare from the insinuating Vogel (as well as within the itchy romantic triangle the three young ops become), and two shocking scenes of characters battling hand-to-bloody-hand for their lives. (But, of course, for females in the audience, none of this compares to the willies we get every time young Rachel lies down on that exam table, under a sheet; there's no more scary, vulnerable position for a woman, even if the doctor doesn't happen to be a wacko Nazi.)

Madden and his writers also take their time establishing their premise, taking scrupulous care to make sure we know who's who and what's what between the shifting time frames. Then they slyly twist what we think we know in their savvy reconstruction of the past. Early in the film, the older Rachel reads a climactic passage from her daughter's book (visualized onscreen). It's harrowing stuff the first time, but at least as the flashbacks in Rachel's memory begin to close in on this same pivotal moment, we know what's coming. Or do we?film_thedebt

Most of the film belongs to the younger actors (the fragile-looking Chastain and sly, calculating Csokas are particularly effective). But Mirren dazzles with her understated ferocity as a woman facing the choices she has made in her life who comes to realize it's never too late to do the right thing.

 

THE DEBT

★★★ (out of four) Watch film trailer >>>

With Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Marton Csokas. Written by Matthew Vaughn & Jane Goldman and Peter Straughn. Directed by John Madden. A Focus Features release. Rated R. 114 minutes.

Comments (2)Add Comment
...
written by RonS, September 07, 2011
I found this movie to be really contrived. First they give away an important part of the film at the beginning, only to slowly take you through all of the events leading up to the key element of the movie, and then lo and behold there is a twist. So you have to go through all of this again, with the idea that you know what is going to happen, only to find out it didn't happen that way. What a waste of time. That was so anti-climatic, especially after having to watch while they spend day after day with their captive. Yuck. Everything about this movie felt manipulative and uninviting. The characters were not interesting and the dialogue was less than stellar. I love Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson, but this movie does nothing for their acting, nor for this movie viewer. Three stars, you got to be kidding.
...
written by retrospective, September 03, 2011
Not to be missed

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Growing Hope

Campos Seguros combats sexual assault in the Watsonville farmworker community Farm work was a way of life for Rocio Camargo, who grew up in Watsonville as the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her parents met while working the fields 30 years ago, and her father went on to run Fuentes Berry Farms.

 

Cardinal Grand Cross in the Sky

Following Holy Week (passion, death and burial of the Pisces World Teacher) and Easter Sunday (Resurrection Festival), from April 19 to the 23, the long-awaited and discussed Cardinal Cross of Change appears in the sky, composed of Cardinal signs Aries, Libra, Cancer, and Capricorn, with planets (13-14 degrees) Uranus (in Aries), Jupiter (in Cancer), Mars (in Libra) and Pluto (in Capricorn), an actual geometrical square or cross configuration. Cardinal signs mark the seasons of change, initiating new realities.

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of April 17

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

Latest Comments

 

Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.

 

How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Trout Gulch Vineyards

Cinsault 2012—la grande plage diurne The most popular wines on store shelves are those most generally known and available—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are all superb for sure. But when you come across a more unusual varietal, like Trout Gulch Vineyards’ Cinsault ($18), it opens up a whole new world.