Spy Game

Rated: R
Stars:   Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Director:   Tony Scott
Writers:    Michael Frost Beckner and David Arata from story by Michael Frost Beckner

Robert Redford and Brad Pitt score a winner in this energetic and neatly crafted spy thriller brought to the screen with great panache by director Tony Scott.

Just one week prior to a Presidential visit to China in 1991, CIA operative Tom Bishop (Pitt), who was undertaking a rescue mission inside a Chinese prison, is himself captured and charged with espionage. In 24-hours, his captors will execute him.

Back at Langley, Virginia, the man who recruited him, veteran agent Nathan Muir (Redford), is debriefed about Bishop as it becomes more and more obvious that the CIA plans not so much to rescue the younger agent but to throw him to the wolves. This is not something that sits well with Muir, even though he’s had some differences with his protégé and even though Bishop’s mission was unauthorized.

Fully expecting a congressional hearing over the incident, the CIA covers itself with an on-the-record investigation of its own. The story flashes back to 1977 Vietnam where Muir first recruits the eager and ideological Bishop and then to 1985 Beirut where an important operation backfires, signaling Bishop’s turning point. These scenes serve well to establish the character, relationship and ideology of the two agents and therefore allow us to know for what and for whom Muir is fighting when he goes to bat for Bishop.

Muir’s character is at times a little too old hat – tweed, trenchcoat wearing and fine, old scotch drinking – he looks like something out of a 1930’s spy novel while Bishop is thoroughly modern in look and approach. But it’s forgivable because it offsets Muir well against the agency’s “suits” – those rigidly thinking goons out to save their own derrieres rather than do the moral thing and help get Bishop out of the jam in which he’s found himself. But, given the political climate posed here, the agency would have stood exactly where it does which makes watching Muir run rings around his handlers all the more fun to watch.

Lotta says: High marks go to Pitt who handles his part with great ease and believability. Redford seems a little studied and stiff but gets the job done and even gets by appearing some 14 years younger during the flashbacks (barely, thanks to cinematography tricks). The pacing is brisk with inventive camera shots, good editing and energetic and themed music. Spy Game  is a job well done.

Reviewed 11/23/01