Spy Game (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner27/11/2001

Two out of five stars
Running time: 126 mins

Tony Scott’s last film was the admittedly-quite-enjoyable Enemy of the State, a fast-paced thriller packed with Scott’s trademark quick-cuts and whizzing cameras.

However, where the frenetic camerawork and editing added to that film, here it only serves as a distraction from the fact that not that much actually happens…

Robert Redford plays Nathan Muir, an ageing CIA agent on –cliché alert- the brink of retirement. On his last day he learns that his former protégé Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) has been captured in China and will be executed for espionage in 24 hours.

This is made more awkward because of the political situation, and Muir gradually realises his superiors plan to abandon Bishop to his fate.

The film unfolds in two parts: Bishop and Muir’s gradual building of a protégé-mentor relationship in flashback; and Muir’s increasingly devious efforts to circumvent his superiors and effect Bishop’s rescue, all without even leaving the building.

For good measure, just in case we missed the fact that this is A Race Against Time, Scott also includes a frequently laughable device whereby the screen freezes in black and white as the time is flashed onscreen in big white numbers.

The main problem with the film is that it just isn’t exciting enough. It’s commendable that Scott attempted to inject a higher level of intelligence into the film (there’s a LOT of talking round tables), but the truth is that there comes a point when you just wish Redford would stop faffing around with a fax machine, nick a helicopter and just go and kick some ass. Yes, it would have been a stupider movie, but it would have been more fun.

Another problem is that the best scenes are over too quickly – the scenes with Redford teaching Pitt ‘the rules of the game’ are the best parts of the film.

Mystifyingly, they appear to have left the best scene from the trailer out of the film completely (Redford getting Pitt to describe everyone around him, then making him realise he forgot to describe "the guy in the grey jumper", i.e. Redford).

Acting-wise, the two leads do okay. It’s Redford’s film and he’s never less than watchable. Pitt does well, too, reigning in his usual array of bodily tics and delivering a more effective, low-key performance.

The weakest link in the film, however, is Catherine McCormack, who plays Pitt’s love interest – her character is under-written and there’s never a sense of a real relationship there. Also, it’s sad to see Marianne Jean-Baptiste (so excellent in Secrets & Lies) relegated to the part of Redford’s secretary…

Ultimately, then, this is a bit of a nothing film. There’s precious little we haven’t seen before and it isn’t particularly gripping or engaging.

However, Scott’s flashy direction at least makes it SEEM as if it’s all moving along nicely, and the two leads keep it all watchable enough. Let’s be honest, though – there are much better films out there that are more worthy of your attention.

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Content updated: 20/10/2014 14:02

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