Opening 22 Sep 2011
Writing credits: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman, Peter Straughan, Assaf Bernstein, Ido Rosenblum
Principal actors: Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds, Jessica Chastain, Marton Czokas
In 1997 three former Israeli Mossad agents, Rachel, Stephan and David (Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciarán Hinds), still bask in a heroic deed of their youth: they had caught and annihilated Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), the sadistic surgeon of Birkenau. Flashback 30 years earlier in 1965: young Rachel, Stephan and David (Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington) are holed away in a sparsely furnished, dark, back-courtyard apartment in former East Berlin. They are at the height of their Mossad agent careers, fully equipped with youth, determination, language fluency, weapons, and hand-to-hand combat techniques (called Krav maga in Israel). Using an ingenious idea they capture Dieter Vogel, who is masquerading as your friendly neighborhood gynecologist. The plan to place him secretly on a train to the West fails, and they find themselves back in the apartment with a prisoner, whom they must guard as well as feed.
This suspenseful political thriller is a remake of the Israeli version called Ha-Hov, which effectively crisscrosses between the 30 years. The behaviour of the retired agents in 1997, which seems contrary to character, is slowly explained in the flashbacks, as we see exactly what each one sacrificed in order to accomplish the goal before everything backfires. There is a triangle love story with Rachel between two men who couldn’t be more different: one is hotly masculine and all business with his eye on the plan; the other is sensitive and shy having suffered the horror of lost parents in the war. All are excellent, but my favourite was Christensen who played the cruel surgeon of Birkenau. He feels absolutely secure in his new identity and, when captured, fearlessly refuses to capitulate. He still believes in his Nazi doctrine, admits no guilt, and taunts his guards with, “Those Jews were only thinking of themselves; not one out of a thousand had the courage to resist: not one would sacrifice himself, so you people had no right to live.” The music, lighting and taut expressions combine to create an unbelievable suspense as we sit on the edge of our seats. The central part of all four coping under nerve-wracking tension in a small apartment could very well be turned into an excellent four-man play for the theater. You can decide whether the unexpected ending is satisfactory and if you agree with one protagonist who says, “It may or may not be a blessing to survive.” Filmed on location in Tel Aviv, the U.K. and Budapest and directed by John Madden. (Becky Tan)