Spy Game
directed by Tony Scott
(MCA/Universal, 2001)

Guin said, "Let's go see a movie with hot guys in it." [Editor's note: Lame motivation!] We chose Spy Game. Oops.

Sure, Brad Pitt and Robert Redford are in it, but the plot isn't. There seems to have been one originally, revolving around spies, Vietnam, the Middle East and, um, stuff. Perhaps the plot would have been clearer if there hadn't been flashbacks to the flashbacks. And interesting dialogue, that would have been good, too.

This is the kind of movie that I can imagine sounded really clever when it was presented to the actors. But somewhere between the agent's phone call and actual filming, something got lost: the point.

I'll attempt an explanation of the plot. It's 1991 and Nathan Muir (Redford) is retiring from the CIA. As unnecessary foreshadowing, he hides all the files on "Tom Bishop." All packed and ready to go 'til, uh oh, he's intercepted by internal affairs rep Charles Harker, who escorts Muir to a meeting to answer questions about Bishop. Good thing we were forewarned, eh?

During the course of this meeting the story unfolds (very slowly) of the first encounter between Bishop (Pitt) and Muir during the Vietnam War. After Bishop carries out a difficult and dangerous mission, Muir decides he's a perfect candidate for the CIA.

Through a complicated and confusing series of flashbacks we witness Bishop's training as a spy (one of the few interesting and intentionally funny parts of the movie). The movie progresses through the '80s in Beirut with aid worker Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack) -- that's all I'm saying about that, so as not to give away the almost compelling storyline -- and the present (1991), when Bishop has been imprisoned in China after a failed mission and is scheduled for execution.

Back in Washington, Muir is being alternately interrogated and released, the audio and video tapes are being switched on and off, and we are led to believe that it's pretty easy to maneuver around CIA headquarters, even if you are being watched and you don't really work there anymore.

On the plus side, Muir's secretary Gladys (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is funny, efficient and clever -- which makes you wonder how she got stuck working for these incompetents. Stephen Dillane as Harker is sarcastic and sinister, but just can't figure out the big picture. In the role of CIA suit Troy Folger, Larry Bryggman plays the stereotypical burned-out national security agent too well, leading us to wonder if he just couldn't take another day of filming.

All the credit for carrying the film and retaining audience interest has to go to Pitt, and not just because he's yummy. He puts effort into the role, and does manage to elicit some sympathy from the viewers.

If you are really into the overuse of every new special effect available, like seeing things blow up, and are unconcerned about plot coherence, you're going to enjoy this movie. Even if you are put off by these things, a friend with a disparaging wit (like Guin) can save this nearly disasterous movie choice.

[ by Katie Knapp ]
Rambles: 12 January 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.