Spy Game

"Good"

Spy Game Review


Plied with borderline-implausible layers of CIA subterfuge and ensconced in director Tony Scott's flashy, superficial visual assault style of ostentatious MTV filmmaking, "Spy Game" is an intrigue-and-action thriller that takes you on a great ride while not really being a great movie.

Like a turbo-charged Tom Clancey adaptation, much of the film takes place inside the hallways, offices and conference rooms of CIA headquarters, circa 1991. But since Scott is a purveyor of short attention span fare, every scene is punched up to a distracting extent with circling cameras, quick edits, black-and-white freeze-frames and other cinematic amphetamines.

However, the picture is grounded by the calm, confident, sly performance of Robert Redford, starring as a veteran spook-wrangler forced to audaciously outfox his own agency to bring a man back alive.

"Spy Game" takes place in the 24 hours after retirement-bound Nathan Muir (Redford) learns that his most talented protégé, Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), has gone rogue and been captured while trying to break someone out of a Chinese prison. He's going to be executed for espionage the next day, and the U.S. government is ready to let him swing. So on the auspices of providing some first-person background on Bishop, Muir elbows his way into a pow-wow of Agency brass to bide for time and abscond with enough classified intel to put a rescue into play.

Over the course of the marathon meeting, Muir recalls his history with Bishop, narrating a series of flashbacks from the two men's first meeting in Vietnam (where Bishop was an army sniper) to Bishop's 1976 recruitment in Berlin (arranged by Muir) and his first disillusionment with the CIA's Cold War ideals (Muir ordered him to abandon a defector who was killed the next day). Meanwhile, Muir uses every bit of expert artifice at his disposal to manipulate his superiors and co-workers as he concocts a plan on the fly and uses backdoor channels to arrange a mission right under the Agency's nose.

Herein lies another problem with "Spy Game" (besides Scott's techno-soundtrack three-ring circus of frenetic imagery): Muir is single-handedly responsible for so many security breaches in this single day that it makes the Central Intelligence Agency look like a bunch of goombahs wearing blinders.

Yet somehow watching the wheels turn in Redford's head makes it all seem credible. Even though we're not entirely sure what he's up to, we know he has a plan and we know he's risking everything -- his retirement, his nest egg, even his freedom if he gets caught -- to put it in motion.

The picture's longest flashback, set in Beirut in 1985, fills in the rest of the blanks as Bishop meets a beautiful aid worker (Catherine McCormack), who isn't what she seems, and has a hand in an assassination gone wrong that disillusions him for good with the Agency's increasingly deceitful methods.

Possibly the most significant obstacle to "Spy Game" having any real gravity to go with its spy candy sensibilities is that Bishop isn't much more than a plot device. Brad Pitt fleshes out the character's indignant idealism nicely, but Scott never gives us a glimpse of what makes him such an outstanding agent or why Muir feels such loyalty toward him. In the flashbacks he's just being molded in training montages or arguing with Muir's ends-justify-the-means defenses of CIA procedure ("You don't just trade these people like baseball cards!"). In the film's present, he just gets tortured in the shadows of the Chinese prison.

Even with its style over substance, "Spy Game" (conceived by Michael Frost Beckner, creator of the CIA-based TV series "The Agency") is always tense, vital and thrilling. On the Tony Scott scale of high-gloss quality vs. high-gloss crapola, it ranks much closer to "Crimson Tide" than it does empty vessels of cinematic cool like "Enemy of the State," "Top Gun," "Days of Thunder," "The Fan" or "The Last Boy Scout."



Spy Game

Facts and Figures

Run time: 126 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 21st November 2001

Box Office USA: $62.3M

Box Office Worldwide: $143M

Budget: $92M

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Production compaines: Universal Pictures, Metropolitan Filmexport, Toho-Towa, Beacon Communications, Kalima Productions GmbH & Co. KG, Red Wagon Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
Fresh: 87 Rotten: 45

IMDB: 7.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Nathan D. Muir, as Tom Bishop, as Elizabeth Hadley, as Charles Harker, as Troy Folger, as Gladys Jennip, as Dr. William Byars, Todd Boyce as Robert Aiken, as Vincent Vy Ngo, Garrick Hagon as CIA Director Cy Wilson, Andrew Grainger as Andrew Unger

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Colossal Movie Review

Colossal Movie Review

It's rare to find a movie that so defiantly refuses to be put into a...

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

It's unlikely that Guy Ritchie could make a boring movie if he wanted to. This...

Snatched Movie Review

Snatched Movie Review

It doesn't really matter that the script for this lively action-comedy is paper thin: teaming...

Jawbone Movie Review

Jawbone Movie Review

Boxing movies aren't usually this thoughtful. Sure, there are plenty of punchy moments in the...

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Scottish filmmaker Gillies MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky) remakes the 1949 Ealing comedy classic, although it's difficult...

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Master filmmaker Ridley Scott is back to continue the story 10 years after the events...

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

A fictionalised account of real events, this drama is reminiscent of Peter Morgan's work in...

Advertisement
Sleepless Movie Review

Sleepless Movie Review

In remaking the 2011 French thriller Sleepless Night, the filmmakers have dumbed down both the...

Unlocked Movie Review

Unlocked Movie Review

By injecting a steady sense of fun, this slick but mindless action thriller both holds...

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

A seriously impressive feature directing debut with a star-making central performance, this period British drama...

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

It was never going to be easy to match the impact of 2014's Guardians of...

The Promise Movie Review

The Promise Movie Review

The director of Hotel Rwanda, Terry George, turns to another humanitarian horror: the systematic murder...

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.