John Madden is a British director best known for “Shakespeare in Love,” which won the 1998 Academy Award for Best Picture. His latest film is “The Debt,” opened in theaters on Wednesday. The film is a remake of the 2007 Israeli movie “Ha-Hov,” about the Mossad hunt for Nazi doctor Dieter Vogel, aka, the “Surgeon of Birkenau.”.
How did you get involved with “The Debt”?
The producers, Matthew Vaughn and Kris Thykier, sent me a script, which was an adaptation that Matthew and Jane Goldman had made of the Israeli film, “Ha-Hov.” The original was made in Hebrew and made very commendable use of a very, very low budget. I thought the material very provocative and very interesting and when I saw it I set about reconstructing the film.
What changes did you make?
Basically, there were shifts in emphasis. I think the way in which the lives of the principals unravel from the impact of what they’ve done, and the politically expedient decision they make, is more the subject of this film. Therefore the “debt” has a slightly different meaning, the additional meaning of “a debt of truth.”
The other film was more about unfinished business, I think. You are after a Nazi, a Nazi doctor, you are already in such a polarized situation. The heroic pursuit of an absolutely despicable man would have been less interesting than a story about a pursuit that examined the question of moral reputation, of moral responsibility.
The critic for the Forward thinks this version of the film moved the emphasis off the Nazi as evil, and made the Mossad agents the bad guys. Do you think that’s true?
That was not the intention. I see that they’re led into or allow themselves a misguided decision, and you watch how they respond to the course the lie has taken. It’s the same choice they make in the original movie. So there is no shift there.
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