- Film Festival
by Le Anne Lindsay
If our civilization continues into the 22nd Century and we evolve into beings who finally respect and view each other as equals, we undoubtedly will still be telling stories of the two most heinous times of our history - Slavery and the Holocaust. There are many societal, economical, historical and psychological reasonings for the continual re-examining of these atrocities; but artistically, every time these topics are seen through the eyes of new characters the story is looked at from yet another perspective. As such, is The Debt by director John Madden (Shakespeare In Love), based on the novel Ha-Hov by Assaf Bernstein and Ido Rosenblum.
On Tuesday, PFS members, Director level and above, were invited to see a sneak peek of The Debt.
Although the film deals with Israeli patriotism and the hunting down of a Nazi war criminal, “The Surgeon of Birkenau” (Jesper Christensen), The Debt is less about delving deeply into these matters, and more a typical espionage thriller.
The story begins in the late 1990's with Rachel (Helen Mirren) being honored as the topic of her daughter's novel, which is based on Rachel's heroic acts as a Israeli agent in the 60's. Young Rachel is played by the now ubiquitous Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life, The Help). The team consisted of Rachel and two other agents, Stephan (Marton Csokas) and David (Sam Worthington); their mission was to track down Dieter Vogel (The Surgeon of Birkenau), take him alive, and have him returned to stand trial.
As you can imagine, it's not all work; whenever you have two great looking men and one beautiful woman in constant close proximity, only one thing can happen - A love triangle.
On the whole, it's a gripping tale, a lot of places to flinch and worry. I'm not crazy about the casting of the two men that play the aged David (Ciarán Hinds) & Stephan (Tom Wilkinson). Both caliber actors to be sure, but neither capture the essence of their former youthful selves. And if anything, the older actors should have switched roles.
Speaking of casting, here's an excerpt of an interview with Madden from Cinemablend.com :
Can you elaborate on the physicality of the Rachel character, because both Jessica and Helen Mirren, who plays older Rachel, find themselves in brutal fights scenes, and you don’t appear to be interested in pulling any punches.
Well, I was blessed with two actresses who were completely up for that. And I will stress that everything you see in those scenes was performed by the actresses concerned. I did shoot a version of the Vogel-Rachel fight with stunt performers, but it only lasted a moment before I realized, “OK, we’re not going there!” Instead, the actors did their own stunts, so what you see is exactly what happened.
Both ladies are very disciplined, and they are both fearless. Jessica did a huge amount of work. She trained in Krav Maga, which is a martial arts technique that is used quite widely as a fitness technique in Los Angeles. So she’d gotten herself quite fit for the role and thought, “Well, I’ve never raised an arm to anybody in anger. I better learn how to do this, otherwise I’m never going to convince anybody.”
The Jessica “situation” is an extraordinary one, because I cast her before any of these other movies had been made, with the exception of Terrence Malick’s film, which was in its second or third year of gestation at that point.
Le Anne is a PFS blog contributor. More of her work can be found on her blog, Tinsel & Tine.