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Monday, Aug. 29, 2011

The Debt

Helen Mirren stars in harrowing adventure

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The legend surrounding Israel's secret service, the Mossad, has grown to mythic proportions. They seem capable of anything, and while many of their accomplishments are startling in daring and ingenuity, like any secret agency, they also have the power to conceal their mistakes. That's the gist behind a 2007 Israeli film and its Hollywood action-thriller remake, The Debt.

Shifting between the 1960s and the 1990s, The Debt has a superb cast playing the characters at different ages. It stars Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson as Rachel and Stefan, retired Mossad agents responding to renewed publicity surrounding their most famous mission, a 1965 raid into East Berlin to apprehend a Mengele-like death camp doctor. The best-selling account written by their daughter stirs unpleasant reflections and triggers twists and turns in the plot.

Rachel, Stefan and their partner David were lionized for their story of bringing the Nazi criminal to Israel for trial, even if they had to kill him in Berlin to prevent his escape. Perhaps the truth was less heroic?

The Debt
includes some harrowing scenes, especially when the younger Rachel (Jessica Chastain) undergoes an examination by the Nazi doctor, working in '60s Berlin as a gynecologist. But while the screenplay raises eternal questions about truth, deception and evil, it undermines itself as the Hollywood improbabilities pile up. Even a fictional investigation of truth shouldn't bludgeon our suspension of disbelief.

Opens Aug. 31 at the Downer Theatre.