It takes an enormous amount of patience and willpower to sit through the
entirety of "Spy Game," an insipidly paced espionage thriller that never
really goes anywhere. Directed by Tony Scott (1998's "Enemy of the State"),
whose filming would lead one to believe he has schizophrenia, the camera
quickly spins and jumps around the characters and surroundings despite
there not being even one exciting sequence of note. This filmmaking
decision, of course, is nothing but a halfhearted, failed attempt to
direct the viewers' attention away from the shallowness of the story.
Set in 1991, CIA agent Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) is only hours away
from retirement when word comes that his longtime protege, Tom Bishop
(Brad Pitt), has been captured by the Chinese government while on his
latest mission in Beijing, and will be executed in 24 hours. As the CIA
debates whether or not to distance themselves from Bishop so as to not
affect their current trade talks, Nathan refuses to allow a man whom he
has had such a memorable past with die, and begins planning a rescue.
In between the plotting and negotiations, Nathan relays his checkered
relationship with Tom to the CIA heads.
"Spy Game" is stubbornly reliant on flashbacks that have no bearing or point
to the central premise. Full 15 to 30-minute sections are dedicated to
these scenes, set primarily in 1975-'76 during the Vietnam War and '85-'86
in West Germany, to the point where director Scott and screenwriters
Michael Frost Beckner and David Arata (1999's "Brokedown Palace") don't
know when to stop. Used to set up the camaraderie that forms between
Nathan and Tom, there is never a true sense of friendship, nor are they
developed into anything more than two-dimensional characters at the
disposal of the needlessly time-shifting screenplay. And although the
film spans 16 years, Nathan and Tom look the same at all times, never
appearing to age in the least. I would love to get hold of their
Robert Redford (2001's "The Last Castle") and Brad Pitt (2001's "The
Mexican"), two actors of usually surmountable talent, are not provided
the chance to do anything interesting with their roles of Nathan Muir
and Tom Bishop. The picture asks us to get involved in the fate of Tom,
but it never gives a reason for why we should care about him. He is not
particularly likable or charming, and he is devoid of a distinct
personality. The same goes for Nathan, who is on hand to do little more
than set up each of the flashbacks.
Also making appearances are Catherine McCormack (2001's "The Tailor of
Panama"), as international aid worker Elizabeth Hadley, who starts a
rocky romance with Tom in the West Germany flashback, and Marianne
Jean-Baptiste (2000's "The Cell"), singlehandedly the best thing about
the film, as Nathan's trusting secretary, Gladys. Jean-Baptiste steals
scenes from Redford, quite a notable feat, and provides the sort of
passion and depth, in a small role, that Pitt and Redford themselves
are curiously lacking.
With lightning-speed editing by Geraint Huw Reynold and Christian Wagner,
director Scott hopes to fool the viewer into thinking that something
suspenseful is occurring when there never actually is. The film is
desperate in its aim to supply divertive entertainment when, in actuality,
it is a crushing bore that lacks even a hint of cursory enjoyment.
Since Nathan and Tom's relationship is so strenuously depicted, one would
expect the proceedings to lead up to an eventual reunion between the two
stars, but it never arrives. "Spy Game" is a surprising waste of time
that leaves you feeling cheated, unsatisfied, and mindboggled to what
exactly the point of it all was.
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman