What induces you to go out and see a film? Is it premise? The director? The actors? Location/Setting? Genre? Style? Each makes it’s mark on a film but usually, there is a general reason why a movie appeals to a second glance, then selected for viewing. As a story lover and character enthusiast, actors and premise, then genre are my biggest draw. I love to see what trusted, mature actors bring to a piece. I revel in examining how they paint a character or pour themselves into a role. Unfortunately, productions aren’t reliant on well constructed characters or the actors alone, so commonly, films, dramas or plays can flop, even with the most stellar cast.
However, if you have better producers and decent writers, the project has a better chance of reaching it’s goal. And that is what I foresee as a bonus to this film starring Helen Mirren and Ciaran Rinds. I won’t say I flock to every Focus Feature production but quite a few are definitely worth the anticipation.
The Debt is a remake of the 2007 Israeli thriller Ha-Hov by Director Assaf Bernstein about three Mossad agents, who carry a thirty-year old secret regarding a mission undertaken in East Berlin. Bernstein’s film was nominated for four Ophir Awards, which later caught the eye of British producer Kris Thykier.
Original Setup: In 1965, three young Israeli Mossad agents were honored for a secret mission where they captured and killed the opprobrious Nazi war criminal, known as the Surgeon of Treblinca. Now, thirty years later (1997), a man claiming to be the truculent doctor has surfaced in the Ukraine and the agents, now in their sixties, have to reassemble and squelch the news of his return.
(Younger agent cast above: Neta Garty, Itay Tiran and Oded Tehomi)
Like the original, The Debt has two sets of actors; one portraying the younger characters that embarked on the 1960’s Berlin mission (Marton Csokas, Sam Worthington, and Jessica Chastain) and the other older present day characters (Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds and Helen Mirren).
The original film was spectacular and the portrayal of both sets of characters wonderful, but the spotlight was most decidedly on Gila Almagor who commandeered each and every scene she graced. For her character’s journey was the focus of the film in many ways– the collection of the debt laying on her shoulders to redeem. Almagor brought grated raw humanity to her portrayal of Rachel Brenner, therefore, I can only imagine what Mirren will add in her interpretation.
The story begins in 1997, as shocking news reaches retired Mossad secret agents Rachel (played by Academy Award winner Helen Mirren) and Stephan (two-time Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson) about their former colleague David (Ciarán Hinds of the upcoming Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). All three have been venerated for decades by Israel because of the secret mission that they embarked on for their country back in 1965-1966, when the trio (portrayed, respectively, by Jessica Chastain [The Tree of Life, The Help], Marton Csokas [The Lord of the Rings, Dream House], and Sam Worthington [Avatar, Clash of the Titans]) tracked down Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace), the feared Surgeon of Birkenau, in East Berlin. While Rachel found herself grappling with romantic feelings during the mission, the net around Vogel was tightened by using her as bait. At great risk, and at considerable personal cost, the team’s mission was accomplished – or was it? The suspense builds in and across two different time periods, with startling action and surprising revelations that compel Rachel to take matters into her own hands.
Thoughts: Personally, I can’t wait for this film. (I’m a huge fan of Helen Mirren and simply relish any film news I find on her.) After watching the original piece, I’d love to see what will be improved upon. It’s a wonderful film without the revisit so thinking about what can be added to give it more depth and intrigue, honestly, the possibilities are endless. The characters and stories are solid and believable and with sensational actors like Rinds and Worthington as Mirren’s males leads, this film is going to be amazing.
My only hope is that the older and younger actors get equal screen time, however, with such an amazing older cast, I seriously doubt it. The film will certainly benefit from more scenes with the older (male) actors so I’m sure I won’t complain. If the synopsis plays out, the film does create more of a foundational story and will allow for clearer motivations and plot structure. It will also embark on a deeper romantic angle than the original film, which has equal chance of enhancing appeal or dragging story movement. All in all, it seems that it may live up to it’s billing. Regardless, The Debt, I’m sure, will be a suitable comparison to it’s source. I have no doubt that it will be a different film (visually) but I look forward to the backdrop of Bernstein’s masterful original work.
The Debt releases next week August 31st.
(*original synopsis and official stills via Focus Features- The Debt)