Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Tony Scott
Stars: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Marianne Jean-Baptiste.
Robert Redford returns to the CIA for the first time since the gripping ’70’s thriller Three Days Of The Condor. However, the engaging and clever Spy Game replaces the paranoid overtones with the more cynical and mercenary attitudes of the early ’90’s when the CIA was coming to terms with the fall of the old traditional ideological enemies and adopting a new set of priorities. The film has something of the seedy atmosphere of betrayal of a Len Deighton espionage novel.
Redford plays Nathan Muir, a veteran spy who is on the verge of retiring after thirty years of dirty tricks. As he is preparing to leave he learns that his former protege Tom Bishop, a.k.a. Boy Scout (Brad Pitt) has been captured during a rogue operation aimed at freeing a prisoner from a Chinese jail. Bishop is due to be executed in 24 hours. With the US about to embark on a series of delicate trade talks with the Chinese, the CIA are not about to risk an embarrassing incident and are prepared to sacrifice Bishop. As his superiors question him about his relationship with Bishop and try to discover how much he knows about Bishop’s rogue operation, the veteran spy uses all his sly tradecraft to outwit his bosses and set up a desperate rescue operation right under the noses of the CIA hierarchy.
Muir’s world of espionage and dirty tricks is cynically portrayed as one in which people are assets to be used or disposed of as necessary for the greater gain and which has no place for idealism. Freeing Bishop gives Muir one last chance at correcting a mistake he made years earlier and gaining redemption.
Spy Game has been directed with the slick, kinetic energy, usual stylish tricks and visual flourishes expected from Tony Scott (Top Gun, Enemy Of The State, etc). Using freeze frames and flashbacks, Scott establishes a palpable element of suspense and urgency as the deadline slowly ticks away. The backstory which details the relationship between Muir and his eager young protege unfolds in a series of flashbacks, spanning fifteen years and covering CIA activities in a number of hot spots of Vietnam, East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall and war torn Beirut with its uncertain loyalties. The film falls down a little here as no amount of sepia toned cinematography can make the stars appear fifteen years younger.
Spy Game marks the first time Pitt and Redford have worked together since the veteran actor directed the rising young star in A River Runs Through It, and the pair develop a credible chemistry on screen. The pair make the most of underwritten and fairly one-dimensional roles. However, it is Redford’s craggy but charming presence that carries the film over a number of weaker moments. His sly efforts to outwit his bosses make Spy Game both intriguing and surprisingly gripping viewing.