Spy Game

Movie Review by Toby White

Starring: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane

Director: Tony Scott

There are two types: films and movies. Films tend to address subjects such as unemployment, the pill, repressed love, working-class boy ballet dancers and other such social issues. Films are shot so as to evoke pathos, are deeply absorbing, raise a smile here and there and leave us feeling generally more fulfilled about life. Then there are movies. A metaphor, if you will: Film is the under-stated, not-so-good-looking but more intelligent younger brother of the loud, obnoxious, outspoken, get-all-the-girls older Movie sibling. Movies, of course, are all those high-octane, popcorn-crunching, cinematic eye candy experiences we watch to fulfil our fantasies*.

SPY GAME is a movie.

Set in 1991, Redford plays Nathan Muir, an unconventional old guard CIA agent just hours away from retirement (sounds familiar but hear me out), who learns that his former protege, Tom Bishop (Pitt), has been detained in a Chinese prison and is scheduled to be executed within 24 hours on a charge of espionage. The new ‘system’ in the CIA have no intention of getting Bishop out since they fear the repercussions and besides, Bishop’s actions were unauthorised. It’s down to Muir to outwit the organisation and get Bishop out in spite of a rift over a girl, Elizabeth Hadley (McCormack), that drove them apart years ago.

What makes SPY GAME so much fun is down to a great formula. Tony Scott’s visual style – the camera-in-motion close-ups; sweeping aerial shots and 100 cuts-a-scene editing – lends itself perfectly to the story as we’re carried from CIA boardroom bureaucracy to Berlin to Beirut and back. And where saturating a movie with dramatic locations and overblown set pieces usually masks a poor script and poorer casting, we have a genuinely exciting story played…well, really well. Redford is at his pensive-then-laconic best and has some of the finest put-downs to Stephen Dillane (as the weaselly new-age CIA bureaucrat) while Pitt plays, funnily enough both on and off screen, the Redford protege. McCormack too, as the aid worker Pitt falls for which then creates the rift between our two lead men, is a fine barometer blah blah blah…basically, for all the verbose clap-trap I could go on with, what I mean is Redford is great and Brad is great and Catherine McCormack is a babe.

As a movie, I really can’t fault this. Sure some of the suspense cliches are still there (the freeze-frame with clock icon to remind the audience how long Brad has to zero hour) and the title sequence is straight out of ENEMY OF THE STATE. And perhaps that’s my point. If you liked ENEMY OF THE STATE, you’re going to love this. And if you’d rather a film such as an empathetic tale of a young man risking everything for his true love – even rebuking his father figure’s good will whereupon the father figure executes patriarchal forgiveness…then you’re going to love this too.

5 out of 6 stars