Eye For Film >> Movies >> Alias: Season One (2001) Film Review
Alias: Season One
Reviewed by: Stephen Carty
Though still at college, grad student Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) secretly works for a black-ops division of the CIA known as SD-6. However, after telling her fiancee Danny that she is a spy, Sydney's boss Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin) has him killed and she learns that SD-6 is actually an international alliance of evil organisations. Deciding to put a stop to this, Sydney walks into the CIA and becomes a double-agent using counter-assignments from her handler (Michael Vartan) in order to bring down SD-6 from the inside.
As well as desperately wanting to tell unaware co-workers Dixon (Carl Lumbly) and Marshall (Kevin Weisman) that they really work for the enemy, she must also deal with the revelation that her estranged father (Victor Garber) is also a double-agent, stop her reporter friend Will (Bradley Cooper) from uncovering the truth about Danny's death and keep those close to her believing that she works for a global bank.
Prior to re-defining mystery and science fiction with Lost and way before he showed that spying can be more than brainless action with Mission Impossible III, creator JJ Abrams was doing both with his sophomore show Alias. Inspired by a joke-plotline from his critically-acclaimed first show, Felicity (where the titular character worked as a government agent one summer), Abrams sought to infuse some much-needed life into the tired spy genre in a time previous to both Jason Bourne and Daniel Craig's recalibrated Bond.
Pleasingly, he more than achieved his task. Mixing espionage with science-based fiction into a hybrid appropriately labelled "spy-fi"; Alias is intelligently-written, notably complex and deserves to be more well-known that it is. Though some subplots occasionally slip into bogstandard melodrama territory (clichéd best-friend Francie, I'm looking at you), nearly all the other arcs are genuinely intriguing (Will's investigation in particular) and most episodes boast more tension than the majority of modern action movies. Note to all explosion-lovers; simply blowing stuff up doesn’t cut the mustard here.
Importantly, fans of JJ will be pleased to know that Alias is full of his trademarks. Sporadically starting with a 'hook' (opening with a dramatic moment near the end of the plot to grab the viewer's attention), the show is one that constantly surprises as it is jam-packed with hard-to-see-coming twists and shocking revelations. With weekly cliff-hangers that will have you frantically awaiting the next episode (DVD viewers will easily blow through a disc in one sitting), it could be argued that Alias set the standard for modern day rug-pulling.
For those who look beyond the surface, Alias also deals with his recurring themes such as family relationships, trust and betrayal, predetermination and the notion of two separate worlds colliding. And if this isn't enough for you then I'm sure the sheer momentum and pounding adrenalin (complete with pumping soundtrack) will keep you as tightly-gripped as one of Sydney's many trouser-tightening outfits.
Speaking of Sydney, Jennifer Garner is very effective in what must be a difficult part to play. Despite the aforementioned outfits and her massive lips (that was lips you filthy-minded person) making her a very obvious sex-symbol, Garner takes things seriously and is able to play all the necessary emotions (her reaction to finding Danny dead is heartbreaking). In other roles, Bradley Cooper is very likeable as persistent journo Will Tippin, Michael Vartan is a perfect fit as the intense Agent Vaughn, Carl Lumbly is smooth as Syd's close colleague Marcus Dixon and Kevin Weisman is a scene-stealing delight as babbling genius Marshall. As for the unexpected cameos, while John Hannah, Quentin Tarantino and Peter Berg are decent, Roger Moore's brief turn had me smiling from ear to ear in full fan-boy appreciation (especially when he does his 'knowing' Bond nod at Sloane).
However, as good as the ensemble is, the show belongs to Victor Garber and Ron Rifkin. As the nefarious leader of SD-6, the always-awesome Rifkin is equal parts duplicitous, eeevil and stubbly. As Sydney's father and all-round super-agent Jack Bristo, Garber takes what could have been a potentially-silly cardboard cutout and turns out a poker-faced legend full of morale ambiguity.
Overall, though it ambitiously tries to fit an entire movie into each episode and sometimes focuses too much on the 'mission of the week' (which, to be fair, are usually part of the bigger picture), Alias is damn good television. Essentially a culmination of everything Abrams has done previously or since, it contains a strong female lead like Felicity, mysterious sci-fi a la Lost and clever spying like Mission Impossible III to great effect. While it might have been largely ignored by general audiences who prefer reality TV or braindead pap, Alias is one show that - if you stick with it - will leave you shaken and stirred.Reviewed on: 12 Nov 2008
If you like this, try:Alias: Season 4