Spy Game

Spy Game

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

When Robert Redford directed Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It, he seemed to be recreating himself as a younger man. Now they are together and the chemistry works perfectly. British director, Tony Scott, who can overdo the designer violence (The Last Boy Scout, True Romance), is back in his Enemy Of The State form. And Redford wears his favourite tweed jacket once more.

The title suggests a caper movie. Far from it. Spy Game is intricately plotted, by no means predictable and genuinely exciting. The centre of the action is at CIA headquarters. It's Nathan Muir's (Redford) last day before retirement - like Jack Nicholson in The Pledge - and something has blown up in China, involving Muir's protege, Tom Bishop (Pitt).

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Politics is involved, because a high level trade mission is planned for Beijing within 10 days. The fate of Bishop, who was caught in the act of trying to free a prisoner from a jail in the North, is of secondary importance. Muir is brought in to explain his relationship with this ex-CIA operative.

Much of the story is told in flashback, a technique that can be annoying, because it interrupts the flow of the narrative. Not in this case. Muir recruits Bishop in Vietnam. He's a natural to the spy game, except he's young and passionate. In East Germany, for example, when Bishop has to condemn a scientist to almost certain death on orders from Muir, after a double agent has exposed them, he realises how cruel this work can be.

He learns it again in Beirut, where he becomes involved with an English aid worker (Catherine McCormack) with a dodgy past. Muir has the charm to get what he wants and the discipline to remain objective. Emotionally, he is warm and yet controlled. It is an act and he's master of it.

What is happening at CIA HQ, where Muir's colleagues, especially the diligent, cold-hearted Harker (Stephen Dillane), are determined to discover what Bishop was really up to, seems as thrilling as memories of anarchy on the streets of Beirut.

Scott's recreation of that city in those terrible times is powerfully handled. He can't resist slow motion and helicopter shots of figures on rooftops, but he is allowed these if the pace and tension is maintained, which it is.

Redford is right back where he belongs. Some of the office scenes resemble All The President's Men, but, perhaps, that is a romantic connotation. Pitt plays the pup with verve. Bishop may be a country boy, but he's no fool. Together, they make a great team.

Reviewed on: 06 Dec 2001
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A CIA agent on the verge of retirement recalls his relationship with protege after the younger man gets into big trouble in China.
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Read more Spy Game reviews:

Stephen Carty ***

Director: Tony Scott

Writer: Michael Frost Beckner

Starring: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Larry Bryggman, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Matthew Marsh

Year: 2001

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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