"The Debt"


An older woman sits among a gathering. Your eye is drawn to her face – and its large scar.

A younger woman stands before the group and extols the virtues of three people who left the safety of home for a dangerous mission.

 


All three, two men and the woman with the scar, we are told were young when they did this.

They went to capture a monster surgeon who performed unspeakable atrocities on Jews in a concentration camp.

So begins "The Debt," a movie told in a back-and-forth narrative between 1997 and the time when the three youngsters go into East Berlin to find and capture Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), the surgeon of the concentration camp.

They are Stephan (Marton Csokas), team leader David (Sam Worthington) and Rachel (Jessica Chastain).

Vogel is now Dr. Bernhardt, a gynecologist in East Berlin. Rachel goes to him, posing as a woman with fertility problems.

The scenes where she places her feet in the stirrups on the exam table are the most dramatic. You see the fear on her face, the horror of exposing one's most intimate self to a monster like Vogel.

What things could he do to her in the midst of such vulnerability?

Eventually, the trio decides to try to capture Vogel/Bernhardt from his office and escape back to West Berlin, but of course things don't go as planned. They all wind up back in their apartment, hatching a new escape.

Days pass, and Vogel knows they fear him. He plays a satanic figure, a tempter of vulnerabilities, an accuser of their alleged failings as a Jewish race.

There is more to the story, such as: Why is there such pain in the lives of the older characters, even after a seeming triumph?

"The Debt" – with its historic narrative, events surrounding World War II and stellar cast – is aiming for the Oscars.

In addition to the young stars mentioned above, "The Debt" features Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciáran Hinds.

John Madden, director of "Shakespeare in Love," helms this movie. Add all that up, and it will probably get many nominations next February.

Yet, this is not an Oscar-worthy movie. I wanted to see the motivation for their kind of action. Why did the Israeli government send these three into the lair of the monster? What was their reason for going? Why take an assignment like this?

When the movie ended, I found myself wondering about their altruism and their real dedication.

Steven Spielberg's "Munich," the story of the Massad agents that went after those that masterminded the Olympics killings in 1972, showed the agony of capturing and killing evil people.

But here, we don't learn much about these characters. We just know they got caught up in something that never seemed to end, and they were forced to live with it for the rest of their lives.

Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.  

MPAA Rating: R for some violence and language.

Director: John Madden

Writers: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan (based on the movie "Ha-Hov")

Cast: Helen Mirren: Older Rachel; Jessica Chastain: Younger Rachel; Tom Wilkinson: Older Stephan; Marton Csokas: Younger Stephan; Ciarán Hinds: Older David; Sam Worthington: Younger David; Jesper Christensen: Dieter Vogel.

The movie's website is here.

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