Published on June 15th, 2008 | by simeon0
The secret world of espionage has long been romanticized in film and print. The dashing deeds of such agents as James Bond, The Saint, and even Austin Powers have delighted readers and moviegoers the world over for decades. Images of exotic locales, deadly super villains, gorgeous women, and danger around every corner are how the public opinion of agents has been shaped thanks to numerous works of popular entertainment.
In reality, the world of espionage is often far less glamorous, and at times a thankless profession that is conducted by a special breed of person. In the film “Spy Game” director Tony Scott gives us a look inside the secretive and dangerous world of the CIA and in the process creates an entertaining and well-crafted tale.
The film opens with a covert operation gone wrong in a Chinese prison in 1991. In the aftermath an agent named Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), has been captured and sentenced to be executed the following morning. Complicating matters is that the U.S. and China are a week away from a Presidential visit to China that will pave the way for increased trade between the two nations.
Shortly after Bishop is captured, a phone call is made to agent Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) to inform him of Bishop’s plight. It is bad timing for Muir as he is about to spend his last day at the CIA before retiring to his dream house in the Bahamas. Undaunted by the unexpected news, Nathan is soon trying to learn all he can about the situation and is dismayed at being left out of the loop by his superiors and co workers. Nathan however has more than one trick left and this is what provides the tension and drama for the film. It is revealed that Nathan was the agent that recruited and trained Bishop starting in Vietnam in 1975. Since Nathan has a solid understanding of Tom, Nathan is able to get in on the task force by withholding information saying that there are few documents as he kept the related information in his head. Before long, Nathan starts to see that there is far more to the story than he is being told, and that his former partner is being set aside in the interest of a much larger picture, and for matters that few in the agency are willing to discuss.
Nathan sets out to use all the tricks of his trade to learn the truth about Tom, what the agency is not willing to tell him, and most importantly, save Tom before time runs out. Redford does a fantastic job in the film as his sly smile shows how is he always thinking a few steps ahead of his opponents and that he is manipulating the game according to his plan like a chess master toying with a novice. The majority of Pitt’s role is shown through a series of flashbacks as Nathan recounts various operations the two worked on ranging from Vietnam, East Germany and Beirut amongst countless others. It is through the flashbacks that the audience learns of Bishops transformation from soldier, to spy and the changes that happen to him as a result of his work experiences as well as his relationship with Nathan. While Bishop does not like not always being informed, and the cold and often brutal nature of the business, he respects Nathan and is very loyal to him not only for his expert training, but also for his friendship and commitment. In many ways it is a father-son relationship, as Nathan seems to be grooming Tom in his own image to be his successor.
Division comes between the two men in the form of a medic named Elizabeth (Katherine McCormack), that Tom has become involved with during an operation in Beirut. Nathan sees her as an asset to be used and discarded, and a potential threat to the mission. Tom believes that Nathan has no place in his personal life and that he is capable of doing his job and can take care of himself. It is this division that comes into play, as Nathan has not seen Tom in many years at the time of the films opening.
What follows is an interesting mix of suspense, drama, and action as past missions are recounted and Nathan is racing against the clock for one final mission. The film also gives a solid look at the lives of the operatives as Nathan is a man who believes that many of the people they deal with are assets to be used and if necessary discarded in order to survive and accomplish the mission. At one point in the film, Nathan tells Tom “if it ever comes down between you and an asset, send flowers”. Like a game of chess, people are to be pawn in the larger game and they are to be manipulated and sacrificed for the good of the overall goal. For years Nathan has believed and practiced this rule, and now he is faced with the end of his espionage career and he is having a hard time letting some things go.
The film is first rate and moves along at a solid pace. The cast is solid and Redford once again shows why he is a modern master of his profession. Pitt gives a strong performance and shows Tom as an individual with passion, devotion, and loyalty. “Spy Game” is a strong, well-acted film that not only entertains, but also makes you think about those individuals who makes sacrifices daily in order to protect our nation and in these difficult times, the message is even stronger.
4.5 stars out of 5