Spy Game Review
It's 1991, and it's Nathan Muir's (Robert Redford) last day as a CIA operative before retirement (yawn!) and he is called in by the top dogs to assist in some background research. Apparently, a rogue CIA man named Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) has been caught spying in China, and is likely to be executed the next morning. The United States wants to disavow all knowledge of Bishop, as it could harm the current bout of good relations between itself and China. Muir, however, sees things differently. Bishop was his protégé, the young man he trained and passed on his invaluable experience to, and Bishop doesn't want one of his own dead. Essentially, Spy Game is literally what its title suggests it is, a two hour movie demonstration of the various skills and moves required to play the game of spying. It's not about individuals, but about the organisation they chose to become a part of, and how they are of course merely pawns in the big scale of things.
Spy Game is effectively two stories in one. There is the already mentioned outer-framework for the story, and there are the numerous flashbacks that are described by Muir as he reports to his bosses the evening before Bishop's execution. These flashbacks depict Bishop and Muir working together and forming a friendship on various missions that take place in such locations as Vietnam, Beirut and Berlin. The flashbacks fill most of the movie, and are the only scenes to actually feature Redford and Pitt sharing screen time. These scenes contribute the only compelling element to the film, and it's a pity that the whole film couldn't have been a straightforward narrative based on these flashbacks rather than the done-many-times-before formula of an operative finishing business just before he retires. The directing by the macho overkill champion Tony Scott is quite tame for the majority of the film, and only the beginning seems to be completely noticeably filled with the usual pounding soundtrack and music video visuals that Scott is so famous for.
Brad Pitt doesn't come across as a superstar in Spy Game, probably because he plays second fiddle and is so in awe of Redford. Redford himself is so dynamically compelling that he carries the film effortlessly, and even renders it watchable (with a lesser actor this film could easily have been terrible). Redford seems less pretentious and not as over-the-hill (as he has recently seemed)when he appears in other people's films as opposed to his own dire directorial efforts. Also, it's a change to note that he isn't scared to let himself appear ageing in a film for once.
Spy Game is entertaining and very diverting, but when you walk out of the cinema you start to realise that essentially you have been fooled; the film isn't really about anything much, and the ending is so abrupt that it dissatisfies. The film takes you on a smooth journey but doesn't deposit you in a nice location; some scenes are underdeveloped, and there must be some extra material cut from the running time that could take the characterisation a notch further. Even so, this is a decent night's entertainment, and worthy if just to see Redford shine once again.