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The Debt

Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service

Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain star in a scene from the movie "The Debt."
The spy thriller is alive and kicking in "The Debt" (Focus), a stylish—though frequently violent—remake of the 2007 Israeli film of the same name. Directed with flair by John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love"), "The Debt" follows top-rate actors across two time periods in a suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse that will keep mature viewers on the edge of their seats, guessing whether there's more to the central events than the official story recounts.

Thirty years after their secret mission in the 1960s to capture a Nazi war criminal, three Mossad agents—Rachel (Helen Mirren), Stephan (Tom Wilkinson) and David (Ciaran Hinds)—reunite to tell their tale in a new book. The details of their exploit are told in flashback by their younger selves, portrayed respectively by Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington.

The trio became national heroes by tracking down and capturing Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), the "Surgeon of Birkenau," a Josef Mengele-like monster who killed thousands of Jews, young and old, through viciously inhumane experimentation during the Holocaust.

Vogel is discovered practicing as a gynecologist in 1965 East Berlin. The agents lay a trap with Rachel as bait; she poses as a young bride with fertility issues. Their scenes together in the examination room are squirm-inducing, as Rachel faces the man who murdered—among so many others—her own mother.

Vogel is captured and detained in the claustrophobic apartment the agents occupy, as they await the unfolding of their plan to smuggle him to the West—and to justice. When the first attempt fails, and the delay becomes interminable, patience wears thin. A psychological game begins, with Vogel—the bald, unrepentant face of anti-Semitism—playing the agents off against each other.

Rachel, an emotional wreck, has her judgment further clouded by her romantic feelings for both Stephan and David. Toss in unresolved issues of loss, anger, revenge, justice and honor and you have a deadly mix ready to explode.

While the elements listed below preclude endorsement for all but well-grounded adults open to challenging material, "The Debt" will certainly keep them guessing right to the end.

The film contains considerable bloody violence, a disturbing portrayal of anti-Semitism, brief nongraphic premarital sexual activity and some rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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