'The Debt' of Sin

Some movies are worth remaking,  and Ha Hov (the original name of the movie in Hebrew) is one of them.  Here is the publicity summary of the movie—-

“The espionage thriller begins in 1997, as shocking news reaches retired Mossad secret agents Rachel (Helen Mirren) and Stephan (Tom Wilkinson) about their former colleague David (Ciarán Hinds). All three have been venerated for decades by their country because of the mission that they undertook back in 1966, when the trio (portrayed, respectively, by Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington tracked down Nazi war criminal Vogel (Jesper Christensen) in East Berlin. 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.”

The cast of the movie is first rate, as is the acting, and at one hour and 44 minutes we have a Taut thriller that has some aspects which suggest it may get some Oscar nods.   It is always tricky business to use two sets of actors to play the very same characters at different stages in their lives, not least because of the issue of finding good actors and actresses that look like earlier versions of other good actors and actresses.   Yet this small miracle is pulled off, especially effectively in the case of Rachel Singer, a Mosad agent, played by Jessica Chastain as a young woman, and by Helen Mirren as a much older woman.  Their performances are worth the price of admission to the movie all by themselves.   But add to that a fine performance by Tom Wilkinson, Claran Hinds and others and you have a proper thriller in the making.   Particularly chilling is the performance of  Jesper Christensen as the diabolical Dieter Vogel the ‘surgeon’ of Birkenau  (i.e. the doctor who maimed and killed numerous Jews doing wicked experiments on them).  There are some scenes where he is about as creepy as Hannibal Lecter.

Yes, this is a Nazi hunting movie, with the arc of the narrative from 1965 until 1997.  And what exactly is the point of all this Nazi hunting so many decades after WWII?   One answer given by one of the main characters is justice, and that ‘justice can be seen to be done’ through a public trial in Israel.  The truth must out, is the assumption.   But this movie is deeply laden with irony, because it is precisely not the truth which comes out in due course.  It is a fictional view of what happened when the mission went badly wrong in east Berlin.

Do people pay a price for perpetrating a huge lie about a matter that matters?  Clearly Tom Wilkinson’s character thinks it does for he suggests that the reason he lost the use of his legs due to a car bomb blowing up his car, is because he is paying a ‘debt’ for the lie he and others told.  But as Rachel Singer says to him—- ‘Don’t be ridiculous, God doesn’t plant car bombs.’  Exactly.   But is there a truth structure to reality so that we can say ‘be sure your sins will find you out’?  Apparently we are meant to ponder this deep question, and by the end of the movie, we seem to have something of an answer.   I’ll let you watch the film and see what your take is on the answer to this question.

This is a movie well worth seeing about primal matters—- justice, revenge, truth, lies, and even some love.  No, its not a perfect film, but the acting shines well enough to overcome some small flaws in plotting, and we begin to understand why indeed, the hunt goes on even today for the last of the ringleaders of the Nazis.  Even though the cry ‘never again’ is not uttered in the film, it is stamped all over it’s plot and plot resolution.  Meanwhile we are reminded that those who do not believe in extreme human wickedness or even basic human narcisssism and fallenness will be constantly surprised by what happens day after day in our vale of tears.

  • Anonymous

    Especially surprising was Jessica Chastain. Last time we saw her was as Celia Foote, the corn pone blond bombshell from Sugar Ditch, Mississippi in “The Help”.

    But I’m afraid that this worthy movie will be shunned by many people because of its theme, Nazi hunting, because the average movie goer is too young to remember those days, even as recent as 1997, in fact, and are more interested in flash bang and crude jokes.

    Maybe it will get more exposure when it comes out on DVD.

  • Jaltman

    I enjoyed it, but I also wondered if ANOTHER Holocaust movie might be one too many.

  • Oscar

    My thinking entirely! In fact on my entertainment blog I ask the question “Why THIS one, why now?” It might have been more timely 20 years ago, or so, but who, really, is interested in the subject of this movie now?


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