THE (director: John Madden;
Vaughn/Jane Goldman/Peter Straughan/based on the film
Ha-Hov by Assaf
Ido Rosenblum; cinematographer: Ben Davis;
editor: Alexander Berner; music: Thomas Newman;
Wilkinson (Stephan), Marton Csokas (The
Young Stephan), Helen Mirren (Rachel Singer), Jessica Chastain (The
Young Rachel), Ciarán
Hinds (David), Sam Worthington (The Young David), Jesper Christensen (Dr. Vogel),
Romi Aboulafia (Sarah
Gold); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: R;
Vaughn/Eduardo Rossoff/Eitan Even/Kris Thykier;
Focus Features; 2010-USA-in English-some German and
Hebrew with English subtitles )
"The intelligent espionage thriller presents us with a moral dilemma, as it wonders if the truth will set you free and if living with a troubling lie could possibly lead to insanity."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
John Madden ("Shakespeare
in Love"/"Ethan Frome"/"Proof") directs this gripping
remake of a 2007 Israeli thriller, based on the film Ha-Hov by Assaf Bernstein & Ido Rosenblum. Writers Matthew Vaughn, Jane
Goldman, and Peter Straughan keep the story filled with
old-fashioned suspense. The intelligent espionage
thriller presents us with a moral dilemma, as it
wonders if the truth will set you free and if living
with a troubling lie could possibly lead to insanity.
Its main problem is in its execution, as Madden can't
find a clear way to bridge the gaps between a story
that spans many decades--going from a Holocaust tale,
a cold war tale and finally to a modern-day political
intrigue story about duplicity in the spy business
that touches on the meaning of national honor.
The movie veers back and forth
from 1966 East Berlin and 1997 Tel Aviv, and with an
exciting final stopover in Kiev.
It opens in 1997 and the
mother of a legendary retired Mossad agent, the
scar-faced Rachel Singer (Helen
Mirren), embarrassingly listens to her admiring
married journalist daughter Sarah Gold (Romi Aboulafia) heap praise on her as a
great mom, as they're attending a publicity reception
for Sarah to launch her new book about mom's heroic
accomplishment when an agent of Mossad.
In a flashback to 1966,
three youthful Mossad agents - Stephan (Marton
Csokas), David (Sam Worthington), and Rachel (Jessica
Chastain) - are in East Berlin for a secret mission to
capture Nazi war criminal Bernhardt (Jesper
Christensen), the "Butcher of Birkenau," and deliver
him to Israel for a public trial. Dr. Bernhardt is really Dr.
Vogel, the Dr.
Mengele-like Nazi, who performed monstrous scientific experiments on
concentration camp inmates. The trio, with the pushy
Stephan in charge, track Vogel down as an unassuming
gynecologist and capture him by using first-time field
operative Rachel as bait when she poses as a patient.
The agents then plan to put the monster on a train to
West Berlin to eventually bring him to Israel for a
public trial, but their precision timed plan gets
botched and they are holed up in an apartment house in
East Berlin holding the bound and gagged Vogel. This
ill-conceived arrangement sets a haunting mood,
especially when there's no plan B and the unrepentant Jew baiting Vogel rekindles
bad memories for the horror stricken agents--all Holocaust survivors whose
families are perceived as ghosts. To add to these emotional
complications, the agents are involved in a love
extremely difficult to keep their mind on the mission,
to be able to stand looking at the monster without
harming him and to express their love for each other.
What really happened in East Berlin becomes a secret
that only the agents know and must live with. When we
return to 1997, we find the guilt-ridden David
returning to Tel Aviv after traveling the world for
years on his own salvation mission; the book getting a
lot of publicity and bringing the heroic story of the
slaying of Vogel into the news again; and an unhappy
Rachel, divorced from her wheelchair-bound bossy
career-minded intelligence officer husband Stephan,
not talking about what bothers her. There's also the
question of the debt that still has to be paid for
those not surviving the camps.
For a mainstream
action-pic, it puts a lot of meat on the plate. But
with great actors such as Mirren and Wilkinson, displaying
splendid nuanced performances, the meal remains hot
REVIEWED ON 9/2/2011 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ