Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Spy Game

Posted By on Wed, Nov 28, 2001 at 12:00 AM

If this scattershot spy adventure accomplishes one thing, it’s to confirm Robert Redford as the all-American rule buster. In The Last Castle and now Spy Game, the comfortably craggy Redford appears to be a conformist, seemingly playing by the rules set forth (by the military in the former and the CIA in the latter). But at heart, he’s still the Sundance Kid, a sly rebel subverting authority from within.

As Nathan Muir, master spook and Machiavellian mentor, Redford manages to be both devious and decent, the voice of authority who can justify even the most repulsive actions. He’s calmly ruthless and doesn’t stop to question why — unlike his immensely promising protégé, Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), who’s nicknamed “Boy Scout” because he can still see truth and justice in the American Way.

There’s a reason that television shows like “Alias” and “24” — which portray layers of internal corruption in the CIA — are far more thrilling than the dull, self-righteous “The Agency”: Americans have grown skeptical of the official version, particularly when it comes to covert operations. History has taught us that conspiracy theories have nothing on the bizarre, labyrinthine world of international espionage, and Spy Game taps into that, portraying Muir and Bishop as the ultimate political spin-doctors who manipulate events until they work to their advantage.

Director Tony Scott (Top Gun, Enemy Of The State) helms the sleek, flashback-heavy Spy Game with his own brand of bombastic panache, following these agents to Vietnam, West Berlin, Beirut and ultimately a Chinese prison and CIA headquarters.

Bishop has been captured and is set for execution in China for attempting to free the imprisoned Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack), an aid worker whose political motives are as cloaked and complex as his own. So on his last day at Langley, Muir is officially recalling the operations he undertook with Bishop for the top brass while clandestinely manipulating the resources of the agency to mount an unauthorized rescue.

While it’s great to see Redford and Pitt together onscreen, there’s something strangely unsatisfying about Spy Game, which is never as tough or cynical as it aspires to be. When Muir tells Bishop that if he gets into trouble, he won’t come after him, the audience knows that’s a lie. This is Hollywood’s golden boy and his heir apparent, after all, and no murky espionage epic can possibly dull their luster.

Visit the official Spy Game Web site at

Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at


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