The webs we weave

This is my review of The Debt [Blu-ray] [Region Free].

This is an exciting drama which also manages to be much more moving than I had expected, and to raise some complex moral issues, rather than be simplistically pro-Mossad as I had feared.

Intense concentration is required to catch all the details and nuances, as the plot is revealed in brief, fast-moving scenes switching back and forth between the 1960s and the 1990s. It is hard to summarise the plot without giving away too much, as I think some previous reviewers may have tended to do.

Essentially, in the '60s, three driven young members of Mossad have been tasked to capture a notorious Nazi doctor,"the surgeon of Birkenau", now practising gynaecology, of all things, in an East Berlin hospital, and to bring him back for trial in Israel. Although there are some major hitches, the three claim to have managed to kill him and are feted as heroes for the next three decades. This accolade is of course questionable since the man has been denied a fair trial, which would have shown the Israelis to be morally superior to their oppressors.

It becomes apparent that the facts are not quite what they seem. The film becomes less of a righteous if fanatical Nazi hunt and more of a psychological drama – the relationship between the three agents, two men and a beautiful woman. The "leader" Stephan is ambitious, David is traumatised by the loss of his entire family, and Rachel also often appears too emotionally vulnerable for the task.

Under pressure, the trio begin to behave in often all too understandably flawed and "human" ways. We see how the captured Doctor Vogel plays on this. I disagree that he comes across as "too nice" because he seems to love his wife: in his lack of real remorse for past crimes, his crude anti-semitism and his ability to manipulate and goad his youthful captors, he is particularly chilling and sinister.

There is also plenty of scope to debate the three agents' various motives for their actions, which cover a wide range: fear, altruism, ambition, personal advantage, to maintain status and the love of others, or simple pragmatism. How should they have behaved at each stage? How would we?

Although some plot details do not hold water when you think about them afterwards, I do not agree that the film tries to cover too much. The complexity seems to me to add to its value and effectiveness. I also do not feel that it loses its way at the end when the fifty-something Rachel sets off for the Ukraine to honour "a debt" and conclude unfinished business. The end of the film is not what you would expect, and leaves matters slightly open for you to draw your own conclusions, which is often the mark of a good film.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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