Spy stories can pack a powerful punch if the motive is right. And that is exactly the case in this well-wrought thriller based on "Ha-Hov," which opened the 2010 Jewish Film Series in the Quad-Cities. The American version is nearly as compelling as the original. (There's a bit of the feel of Steven Spielberg's "Munich" here as well.)

The movie transitions back and forth in time between the middle 1960s and the late 1990s. In the ‘60s, the focus is on three Mossad agents: Rachel (Jessica Chastain, seemingly everywhere these days and also in "The Help" and "The Tree of Life"), David (Sam Worthington) and Stephan (Marton Csokas). They are assigned to capture a Nazi war criminal known as "The Butcher of Birkenau." They are supposed to take him alive and transport him to Israel to be tried.

Rachel has a ghastly role in this plan: She is posing as a married woman who wants to become pregnant. She is to go to the doctor (Jesper Christensen), who is practicing under another name as a gynecologist, to confirm his identity and then set an elaborate and dangerous plot in motion.

When the plan is foiled, the agents agree to keep the failure a secret. In the 1990s, Rachel (played by Helen Mirren), now a well-known author who has told the story of the mission countless times, again sees Stephan (Tom Wilkinson), who tells her their job may not be finished and brings news of David (Ciaran Hinds).

The best part of the movie, and the most believable, is the scenes in East Berlin during the 1960s. Not only is it fascinating to watch the plan unfold, but it's also interesting to see the tension that builds between the three characters as each man is attracted to Rachel.

The performances are commendable. The character development is important early on because it helps us understand the actions of the trio 30 years in the future, but the drama also contains a lot of action. John Madden is a solid director who not only knows how to keep things moving physically but also on an emotional level. (He was behind the camera for the Academy-Award-winning "Shakespeare in Love.")

You can tell fall is here. This is one of the first "serious" movies of autumn.

 

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