Spy Game

on November 21, 2001 by Michael Tunison
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   While it's perhaps impossible for a civilian to imagine just how world-weary and emotionally deadened a CIA covert operations officer might be by the end of a long career, we get a fair approximation of the feeling by the time the clunky espionage drama “Spy Game” finally draws to a close. As with so many U.S. secret ops, there is evidence that the men behind this ambitious venture set out with good intentions, but the means used to achieve their goals are questionable.

   After a punchy opening detailing the capture of American spy Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) during a failed attempt to rescue an unidentified inmate from a Chinese prison circa 1991, the story turns to Bishop's onetime Agency mentor Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), who is attempting to wrap up his professional affairs on--groan!--his last day before retirement. Since the butt-covering CIA brass refuses to intervene before Bishop's scheduled execution the following day, it's up to Muir to save his former protégé's neck. As the older agent begins making stealthy moves under his bosses' noses, the film fills in the backstory of Muir and Bishop's tempestuous years working together in such Cold War-era hot spots as Vietnam, Germany and Lebanon.

   While “Spy Game” deserves credit for trying to convey the impossible moral dilemmas faced by those inhabiting the back-stabbing world of international espionage, director Tony Scott (“Enemy of the State”) can't figure out how to overcome the awkwardness of the flashback device and get any real dramatic momentum going. The characteristically showy visual style he employs in hopes of cranking up the energy--swooping airborne shots, sped-up imagery--is merely distracting, while decisions such as the one to include a title reminding us what time Pitt's character is set to die the following morning are downright insulting to the audience. Even such born movie stars as Redford and Pitt, not for nothing the fair-haired screen idols of their respective generations, are at something of a loss trying to draw us into this ill-conceived mission. Starring Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Larry Bryggman and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Directed by Tony Scott. Written by Michael Frost Beckner and David Arata. Produced by Douglas Wick and Marc Abraham. A Universal release. Action/Drama. Rated R for language, some violence and brief sexuality. Running time: 126 min

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