Espionage thriller
Spy Game
Dir: Tony Scott
Star: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane
Cert / Year: 15 - R / 2001
Format: DVD R2

Spy Game begins at Su Chou prison in China, where a cholera epidemic is threatening the inmates. A team of international aid workers speed make their way through the prison in order to inoculate the prisoners. Whilst they begin the treatment, one of the aid volunteers manages to electrocute himself on the dodgy electrics in the prison. After the body is moved away from the inoculation area, the apparent corpse of aid worker Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), in reality a CIA operative comes back to life and he begins a sweep of the prison for a particular inmate. Whilst the Chinese guards frantically struggle to fix the electrics that were blown out by Bishop's apparent electrocution, Bishop makes good use of the blackout and finds his quarry and barely makes it back to his stretcher in time before the electric flickers back to life. Before Bishop and his team, including the escaped prisoner can make it out of the prison successfully they are caught and Bishop is arrested and beaten. News of Bishop's capture has made it back to the CIA who are surprised to learn of his capture as he wasn't supposed to be there. In order to ascertain what has happened and why an agent was apparently on a personal mission the CIA chiefs call in Bishop's former handler and mentor Nathan Muir (Robert Redford). Having taken a keen interest in the career of his protege, Muir was already aware of the situation and sets into motion an elaborate rouse of his own, before the CIA leave Bishop to die at the hands of his unforgiving captors.

Written by Michael Frost Beckner whom also wrote Sniper. Spy Game is told primarily in the form of retrospective flashbacks and narration by Redford's character. The flashbacks are held together by the secondary story of old school spy Muir being interrogated by younger less experienced superiors at the CIA, concerning his protege Bishop, much to Muir's displeasure seeing as it is his last day with the agency due to his retirement. As the story unfolds it is apparent that an almost father and son like relationship developed between Bishop and Muir, which obviously bolsters Muir's determination to see his boy is safe and prevent his untimely death at the hands of the Chinese who have given the CIA 24 hours to claim him as their own or he will be executed. The CIA however are unwilling to claim Bishop due to some political wranglings, which means that they will let Bishop die in order for the US to get some trade rights, not to mention avoid any bad press prior to the upcoming visit by the President to China. Muir's plan is elaborate and very nicely unfolds throughout the film culminating in a somewhat played down finale.

A good cast on the whole, headed by the excellent Robert Redford. It really is a refreshing change to see such a great screen presence as him in what is essentially a good old fashioned espionage thriller. Redford has a superb stillness that comes across really well in this type of role for further proof, see Sneakers and Three Days of the Condor where his characters all manage to convey more with one look than a whole page of dialogue. This is no exception and it is a pleasure to still see Redford working even if for some viewers he may be a little long in the tooth. There is a good # chemistry between him and Brad Pitt. I have to admit, I really don't particuarly like Brad Pitt but this is one of those rare exceptions where I can say that he is better than his average mediocre performance and is quite watchable even if he is really playing second fiddle to Redford.

A nicely layered and very well paced film, which is almost nostalgic in it's simplicity as a spy thriller. Despite the stalwart spy film style of James Bond and the modern endeavour at spy/action film for the "Playstation generation" that is xXx this film manages to remain driven by it's story and not action for action sake which affords it an quite erudite feel. Generally a gripping thriller, but unfortunately falls a little short of being taut and tense, from which the film would have benefitted. Don't misunderstand, the film does have some good tense moments but it just can't hold it and at times is a little too predictable in a formulaic spy thriller kind of way.

The direction by Tony Scott is as you would expect from the man who brought us Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State, very slick and quite contemporary. He manages to balance some fabulous photography with subtle and impressive style, resulting in an atmospheric and nicely directed piece. Some of the aeriel photography is captivating and quite striking, the rooftop meeting between Redford and Pitt is both superb and inspired, providing a memorable set piece. Scott manages to provide some stark contrats between the various decades of the film, but if I were to nit pick then I would have to mention the fact that neither character changes at all over the 20 or so years covered in the story, from the Vietnam war through to Bishop's capture in 1991. That did mar my enjoyment a little as such a silly and basic continuity flaw as that could have easily been addressed and rectified.

On the whole I found this a grossly underestimated and entertaining film which despite one or two flaws is quite enjoyable and a refreshing change from the usual dross that Hollywood churns out. The veritable chess game between Muir and the CIA is well played out and compelling as Muir almost effortlessly outwits and manages to stay one step ahead of his former colleagues.


It's not how you play the game. It's how the game plays you


Nathan Muir: "Where did you learn to shoot?"
Tom Bishop: "Boy Scouts, sir."

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Picture 2.35:1 Anamorphic Good crisp image, intentionally grainy at times
Audio Dolby 5.1 Good soundtrack overrall
Features Semi animated revolving menu
Theatrical trailer
Interesting and cool directors commentary by Tony Scott but is sometimes rather boring
Several "insights" into the production process of the film
Series of deleted and alternate scenes with optional directors commentary
Verdict Quite a nice disc with a decent set of extras, Nothing excessive or over the top. Nice presentation with a good soundtrack. Worth getting for any fans of a good old fashioned spy thriller.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home