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Spy Game

Action lurks in the background while motives and objectives—the outlines of the whodunit—hover on the surface

Spy Game
Spy Game
Starring: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack
Director: Tony Scott
Rating: ***

This seems to be the season of hard-boiled Hollywood. After Training Day, you have Spy Game, where as many as three classic thriller elements are mixed and churned for riveting consumption. Action lurks in the background while motives and objectives—the outlines of the whodunit—hover on the surface. The centre-point revolves around a thinking match, which makes the plot seem more like a Byzantine chessboard.

Veteran CIA operative Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) gets a distress call on the last day before his retirement: his protege Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) is scheduled for execution in a Chinese prison. The reason is unclear; more intriguing is the stance adopted by cia officials. Huddled in a chamber, which seems more like a corporate boardroom, they interrogate Muir throughout the night about Bishop. Slowly, the real purpose of the exercise comes to the fore—Bishop is to be sacrificed by his own organisation to ensure healthy trade with China. Muir remains in the room, parrying questions and trying to institute a covert rescue operation for Bishop. Flashbacks reveal the relationship between the main characters—through Vietnam, East Germany and Beirut, the flashpoints of modern espionage. It is an association based on mutual respect for talent, and a love for the great game, but lacking in emotional intensity. Muir plays the classic teacher/friend role to the hilt, letting the pupil loose in a baroque world, giving him just enough wisdom to find his own way out of the mess. Bishop rumbles through the education, mastering the lessons but also adding his own dash and emotional angle. He falls out, and then reunites with Muir—a major point being a reckless love interest (Catherine McCormack) which lands him in trouble.

Director Tony Scott's technique keeps pace with the turbulent, yet cool, nature of the Bishop-Muir relationship. Sepia-grey tones alternate with stunning dark imagery, especially in the flashback scenes. The narrative is interrupted, not only by the past but the present as well. Freeze shots, seen after many years in mainstream Hollywood, help convey the sense of urgency—for both Bishop and Muir time is running out. Bishop's trauma in a Chinese jail is conveyed solidly and fleetingly, his bruised face appearing suddenly in the midst of Muir's clinical manoeuvrings. The only drawback rests in the failure of dialogues to match up to the style and substance. Redford steals the show with a deadly, poker-faced amiability, but Brad Pitt's star demeanour blocks the full import of Bishop's dilemma-ridden energy.

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