Spy Game

Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.
Directed by Tony Scott.
Running Time: 126 mins
Rated: M

The end of the Cold War was good news for the security of the world and a dreadful business for novelists. North Africa and the Middle East have been too sensitive and Asia too unknown to entice Hollywood back into a big-budget spy film. Enter Spy Game.

It's 1991 and Nathan Muir (Redford) is about to begin his last day working for the CIA (now that's an old trick) when he gets a phone call from Hong Kong telling him that his star recruit and spying protégé Tom Bishop (Pitt) has been imprisoned in China for espionage. The US Government has 24 hours to claim Bishop and force the Chinese to hand him over or he will be executed. The maverick Bishop, however, was not on official undercover business and the CIA needs Muir to help them work out what Bishop was up to. Bishop needs Muir to save him from death.

In the best traditions of Hollywood espionage films, Spy Game is a big budget production. Set in Vietnam, Virginia, Berlin, China and Beirut we tour the world piecing together the history of Muir and Bishop's relationship and why Bishop is presently being bashed in a Chinese gaol. Not that the film crew went to these exotic locations. They went to other
exotic places and recreated the ones they wanted. It is amazing to see how the Art Director and his team can use Vancouver, Morocco, Budapest and Oxford as stand-ins. Anyone interested in set design and decoration will be impressed with this film.

Director Tony Scott is best known for Top Gun, Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State. Spy Game combines elements of all these films. The photography is excellent, especially in the use of aerial shots. The contrast between black-&-white and colour film, different film grains, exposures and freeze frames gives Spy Game a very stylish look. The cutting between the stories from China in 1991, Vietnam in 1975, Berlin in 1979, to Beirut in the 1980s enables Scott to maintain a good pace. These stories are not just fillers; they are interesting units on their own. The central drama occurs at the CIA headquarters in Virginia. Knowing that this is the least visually interesting place in the film, Scott allows Redford's charisma to work its magic.

Like most spy stories there are gaps galore in the tale. It's hard to believe that the CIA's internal security is as easy to spoil as the retiring Nathan Muir makes it look. The Chinese don't seem to have air coverage for their highest security prison. The ruthless Bishop proves
again that all counter-intelligence agencies need do to expose undercover agents is have a beautiful woman on hand. Furthermore, as much as I admire Mr Redford for not having a face-lift, when we cut back to Muir and Bishop's first meeting in Vietnam, the close-ups of Redford's face shows every line and crevice we have see 16 years hence.

There are acts of simulated violence that will offend some viewers, but if you have missed the undercover moles doing their stuff for love or freedom, then Spy Game should bring you out of hiding.

Richard Leonard SJ

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