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Just when I am about to give up on movies for adults and turn only to Pixar for Salvation, along comes Spy Games. A great action film? No, but in its stead, a smart one.
What with the story being of one spy recruiting the other, training him and following the way through several scenarios there is action but this is not the crux of the film, nor is it when Spy Game is at its best.
The film takes place in 1991, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and when China is in trade talks with America. At this moment though C.I.A. agent Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) has apparently gone rogue. Under the guise of medical personnel applying cholera treatments to prisoners he attempts to sneak a political prisoner from the camp and is caught himself.
Enter Nathan Muir (Robert Redford). It's his last day as an agent, he's all set to retire when this quietly starts to blow up within the C.I.A. walls. The Chinese are going to execute Bishop within 24 hours and the C.I.A. are busy trying to cover their asses and want nothing to do with Bishop. The problem is Muir trained him, brought him along and in so many ways is responsible for the way Bishop is today.
This sets the framework of the film, quiet, tense boardroom scenes between Muir and the C.I.A. bureaucracy as Muir tells how he recruited Bishop in Vietnam and how he was used in East Berlin, Beirut and so on. While the action scenes are often thrown to Brad Pitt's character it is the double dealing and playing of the spy games between old and new agents of the C.I.A. that is the true intrigue. The film only falters slightly when a romantic interest is brought in the form of Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack). Bishop breaks the code instilled by Muir and still falls for this woman despite the inherent dangers of trusting anybody other than Redford. Neither McCormack or Pitt are given enough time to play out their characters or evolve a truly believable love story so this is all just necessary to keep the plot moving. Keep your blinders on and move along.
Though the trailer to this film shows Pitt being taught by Redford, these sequences are short (and some don't even appear in the film) and lead one to believe the film is Pitt and Redford together. Not so, this is Redford's film, Bishop may provide the plot and motivation but it is truly Muir/Redford's character left doing all the slight of hand motions necessary for the spy side to work and work it does.
However, in my own defence let me point out...a lot of locations are film locations and not logistical ones. A scene where Bishop and Muir are arguing over tactics employed takes place on a rooftop in the middle of a foreign city where another spy could easily listen to their entire conversation. That's bad. What's worse is Pitt's character, when pushed, throws a chair off the top of the building. So much for keeping a low profile...people have a tendency to find out where falling chairs are coming from. Put aside any form of that thinking though and you will at least be given the same sort of ride you were given with Scott's Crimson Tide.
Tony Scott (Enemy Of The State, True Romance) is a flashy director and this is a flashy film, but to go along with the style this time out is some real solid substance. Nothing earth shattering mind you but a strong (enough) story and with Redford in tow, a well acted one. Scott has taken a good script and cut away all the excess fat to leave you with one helluva a government thriller/espionage flick. Fun without ever leaving you feeling guilty.
A more than solid 78 out of a 100.
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