Spying A Winner

Spy Game, the new espionage thriller from Tony Scott (Enemy of the State), has all the elements of a good spy-thriller: double-crosses, mysterious women, rogue agents, a cover-up and Robert Redford. Redford is the man to cast when you are dealing with the CIA. In the past 25 years, Spy Game joins two other Redford flicks that have portrayed some aspect of central intelligence with deft and pinache--1992's Sneakers and 1975's Three Days of the Condor.

This time around, the year is 1991 and Nathan Muir (Redford) is about to retire from the Agency after a long career of assassinations and top-secret missions. On his last day, he finds out that his renegade protZgZ Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) has been taken into custody by the Chinese under charges of espionage. Bishop's going to be executed in 24 hours. The Agency snags Redford and begins a long Q&A with him about Bishop's past. Redford wants to save his young friend's life, but the CIA wants to allow the execution. What follows is an impressive set of mind games, expertly edited into a series of flashbacks (of Redford and Pitt) and a series of real-time discussions where Redford tries to beat the Agency at its own game.

The two leads are in top form--Pitt plays the reluctant spy well, and Redford is near perfect as the old master. Aside from a few Redford zingers, the dialogue is surprisingly bland. The storytelling, however, is superb--the script moves well from flashbacks to the present and, combined with Scott's direction and effective use of several film styles (freeze frames, tinged lenses and sprawling aerial shots), Spy Game deserves high praise.

It's still nowhere near as exciting or intense as Condor, where Redford plays an entry-level operative who one day finds his entire operations office has been gunned down. Then, Redford was the young idealistic agent who, after he figures out what went wrong and avoids many assassination attempts, sells out the CIA to The New York Times. Spy Game gives us a taste of what Redford's character in Condor might have become had he stayed with the Agency. He's hard and pragmatic as Muir; Pitt, on the other hand, seems to have taken a page from Redford's work in Condor.

Where Condor spun into a believable ending, Spy Game stretches the truth to CIA-in-the-1960s-levels, with an absurd finale--it's like ending an imperative sentence with a question mark. The film makes some great statements but leaves on the wrong tone. Even with the off-key ending,Spy Game is so crisply edited, you may actually find yourself wondering what's next for Muir and Bishop after the credits roll.


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