Netflix Review: The Debt
The Debt, a gem of a movie from 2010 set in the 1960s and 1990s, on an undercover Mossad operation in Germany, explores the horrors of the Holocaust from the vantage points of thrills and ethics
There are weeks — and weekends — when the new releases on OTT leave you a bit cold, and you don’t feel like trudging through the line of contemporary offerings to zero in on a title to invest time in. That’s when the old-is-gold section gets you going: Netflix has a great repository of movies from different eras, which you should definitely give a shot when you are tired of jaded newness.
The Debt came up a helpful suggestion, and the stellar cast of Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Chastain and Sam Worthington was an immediate draw. On doing a bit of research (with the aid of Google, what else?), I wisened up to the fact that it’s a remake of the 2007 Israeli thriller film Ha-Hov, that follows the actions and consequences of a group of young, undercover Mossad agents who come to East Berlin in 1965 to capture Dieter Vogel — infamously nicknamed as ‘The Surgeon of Birkenau’. Vogel used to perform unspeakably horrific “medical experiments” on Jews during World War II. The agents’ brief was to bring him to Israel to face justice.
The three agents are Rachel Singer (Chastain) — who’s on her first field assignment — and the more experienced David Peretz (Worthington) and Stefan Gold (Marton Csokas). Rachel and David pretend to be a married couple from Argentina, and Rachel becomes a patient at Vogel’s obstetrics clinic, from where they manage to nab him and hold him captive.
Simultaneously, the three agents also get caught up in an emotional crossfire: Rachel and David get romantically involved, but Rachel — after a one-night stand with Stefan following a breakup with David (who is fraught with personal baggage) — becomes pregnant with Stefan’s child.
“History” documents that the three killed Vogel when he tried to flee, and even though they could bring him back to Israel, they returned home heroes.
The action then moves to the late 1990s. A book written by Rachel and Stefan’s daughter — in Tel Aviv — delineates the story of ‘valour’ and ‘heroism’ the three agents showcased back in the 60s. But, as it turns out, the reality is very different from what has been projected — in the book and the movie so far.
Circumstances collate to present a tipping point: all three have to either face up to the “real story” or live a lie.
What really happened when Vogel was being held captive?
The revelation is an edge-of-the-seat denouement that has the potential to destroy lives.
I had a small problem with an otherwise excellent thriller that also holds a mirror to moral turpitude: the generational representation was cosmetically flawed. Chastain “ageing” over three decades to become Helen Mirren was a little difficult to digest because the two look so different. Ditto for Sam Worthington morphing into Ciarán Hinds as David Peretz, and Marton Csokas to Tom Wilkinson.
If you are kind enough to overlook that aspect, the cast is otherwise superb, and delivers a sucker punch in every other way.