Posted: 11/21/2001


Spy Game


by Del Harvey

Tony Scott’s spy film is a delicious game of cat and mouse, as well as a nice commentary on the individual vs. big government.

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I usually don’t read reviews before seeing a film. I could barely help it with Spy Game, the new action thriller from director Tony Scott (Ridley’s younger brother). Every newspaper and magazine I’ve looked at in the past week has some sort of story about this film. I knew I wanted to see the film, but I didn’t know it was driven by divine guidance. The worst thing about reading someone else’s review is that you might learn something about a film you don’t want to know. In this case, the “big story” was that Redford was back in top form, for the first time in decades. Well, I thought about it, and I hate to disagree, but I do. Redford has never left top form, even in such fluffy but enjoyable pieces as Sneakers. He’s a class act, all the way. What has been missing is the opportunity to sink his teeth into a meaty role. In Spy Game, he is given that chance. And he uses it to full effect.

As CIA officer Nathan Muir, Redford is in full command of his star power and his abilities. It is Muir’s last day on the job; come 5:00p.m. and he’s officially retired. But one of his favorite operatives, Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), has run a rogue rescue mission in China one week before the President is to travel to China for trade talks. Tom Bishop, aka “Boy Scout,” was caught. And now the new breed, represented by CIA officer Charles Harker (Stephen Dillane) and the old boss, Troy Folger (Larry Bryggman), must try to pry as much information from Muir as possible before the President begins the talks.

Throughout the following 2 hours we are shown the history of Muir’s relationship with Bishhop. Interwoven is Muir’s chess game with these two CIA leaders and three others, all part of a “task force” which seems to have been assembled to determine what to do in the name of saving their asses.

Pitt’s “Boy Scout” character is a chip off the old block, having been recruited and trained by Muir. He does a great job with the character of a “field operative” (spy) and an even better job of outlining a relationship between himself and Muir which borders on father-son. Catherine McCormack stars as Red Cross volunteer Elizabeth Hadley, to whom Bishop loses his heart. Which is taboo, according to Muir. Perhaps best known for her role in Braveheart, it took me a while to recognize her in this film, and I still can’t figure out why. In a supporting role as Gladys, Muir’s assistant, is Marianne Jean-Baptiste, best known for her role in Secrets & Lies. She is an excellent actress and provides a fine supporting performance here.

Spy Game is a high-pitched, hot-wired thriller. Tony Scott has done some rather airy pieces in the past (Top Gun, Revenge, Beverly Hills Cop 2), but he has occassionally turned out some great action films: True Romance, Crimson Tide, The Last Boy Scout, Enemy Of The State. The story, by Michael Frost Beckner and co-scripted by David Arata, is very tight and never lets you down.

Spy Game is as good as the trailers look, and it’s going to look good the second time you see it. And the third. And…

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.

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