Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Larry Bryggman
MPAA Rating: (for language, some violence and brief sexuality)
Running Time: 2:07
Release Date: 11/21/01
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Review by Mark Dujsik
Movies have become far too average recently. They donít try anything new, and if they do, they play it safe. Spy Game falls into both of these categories in different ways. On one level, itís a completely average thriller, but on the other hand, itís very talkative, with little action. I admire that second part, but when it does provide the typical action scenes or some familiar plot developments, it becomes formulaic and clichťd. Itís far more intelligent than most thrillers that somehow find their way into theaters, but itís still only out to do whatís itís supposed to do. Luckily, it is briskly paced and has enough style to keep the formula and implausibilities, for the most part, out of mind.
In 1991, Itís Nathan Muirís (Robert Redford) last day with the CIA (why it has to be his last day, I donít know, except that itís how it usually goes in movies), and before he even arrives at work, he learns from a friend in Hong Kong that Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) was captured by the Chinese government for espionage and is set to be executed in twenty-four hours. The main conflict of the story now is that Muir wants to save Bishop, even though it seems that the powers-that-be just want to forget about his existence. So Muir hides crucial evidence and talks to his superiors about Bishop. Following throughout the movie are an extensive amount of flashback sequences that trace Muir meeting Bishop in Vietnam, Muir training Bishop in espionage, Muir giving Bishop his missions, and Muir having a falling out with Bishop, all of which somehow accounts for Bishopís status now.
Thereís a woman involved, too, obviously. Her name is Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack), and she works for a Red Cross-like organization. Bishop meets her on his assignment to assassinate a sheik. Of course, a romance develops, and of course, itís given more importance than necessary, but this is not a movie about its characters. Itís about a race against time, which we can tell by the multiple freeze-frames telling us what time it is. One time, the movie seems to think the audience has forgotten the reason why we are reminded of the time and actually places the title card "Execution: 8:00 A.M." on the screen. Time seems to move very quickly. For example, Muir has to use another employeeís phone because his authorization has run out, and a man knows heís in the building. According to this timeline, it takes a few hours for him to move from one room to another. The character looking for him is simply in the story to add more conflict; his existence is a device of the script.
It all leads to two escapes, and the way the simpler of the two is presented is sort of a cheat. Watch as the character leaves the building, and we assume he is free. Unfortunately, it couldnít be that simple, but whatever ramifications the character must face would defeat the purpose of the movie. That purpose is simply to follow Muir through this dilemma. As portrayed by Redford, itís pretty easy. His presence here is satisfactory to the needs of the movie, although not quite as effectively used as in The Last Castle. Pittís performance falls in the same category, but itís neither of their faults. The script does not have room for character development, and so, we have very little. Itís just too bad to watch Marianne Jean-Baptiste, so exceptional in Secrets & Lies, underused again as Muirís secretary.
But Spy Game doesnít really give you time to really think about these lesser-developed elements or the implausibilities of the story. Itís a compact thriller, with little to no extraneous material. Director Tony Scott keeps the storytelling interesting and the majority of the dialogue scenes camera-trick free. Itís not ground-breaking or altogether memorable, but it does whatís itís supposed to do, and it does it well enough for me to recommend.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.