Spy Game (2001) / Thriller-Action
MPAA Rated: R for language, some violence and brief sexuality
Running Time: 126 min.
Cast: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane
Director: Tony Scott
Screenplay: Michael Frost Beckner, David Arata
Review published November 26, 2001
Although I enjoy spy flicks and also consider Redford (The Last Castle, The Horse Whisperer) and Pitt (Snatch, Fight Club) as excellent actors, the fact that Tony Scott (Enemy of the State, Crimson Tide) is the director had me lowering expectations going into this film. Luckily, Scott's directorial style doesn't totally obscure the smart writing by Michael Frost Beckner (Cutthroat Island, Sniper) or the terrific performance by the two stars. To his credit, Spy Game could have been a very boring film without some directorial punch, and punch is definitely what Scott delivers during some well shot scenes throughout the film. Still, there are some scenes where he clearly overdoes it a bit and the directing gets in the way of the dialogue. Regardless, Spy Game delivers a smart (if not great) espionage vehicle that, even though it isn't exciting as a James Bond vehicle, maintains a genuine interest into the world and minds of the game played by the world's best spies.
Redford plays Nathan Muir, a top-notch CIA agent approaching retirement, who is called into a meeting of other top brass only to discover that a younger agent, Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), has been captured while trying to break someone out of a Chinese prison. Through a series of flashbacks, Muir recreates the relationship he had with Bishop as a mentor, as well as for the possible reasons why Bishop would attempt a dangerous prison break to begin with. Bishop is given about 24 hours to live, and Muir must find a way to get Bishop out...which is certainly not easy when you are on the other side of the world.
Outside of Scott's directorial style, the film is also inventively subtle in every other respect, including some very witty writing, and a great laidback performance by Redford. Although the two stars don't share much screen-time together, they both get plenty of exposure on their own, so fans of either actor should be pleased with the result. Spy Game does take a while before it seems to be going much of anywhere, but eventually things do pick up steam. The momentum never reaches "blow-you-away" status but it does maintain viewer interest, even when Redford is merely making a series of phone calls. The plot does get a bit confusing, and some of the motivations aren't always clear, yet the main storyline is good enough to overcome any holes or loose ends leftover in the end. While many viewers may not have the patience to stick with a rather dry espionage film for the duration, Spy Game is still definitely recommended for those into spy flicks or die-hard fans of the two leads.
©2001 Vince Leo