These spies got Game

Tom Bishop is a killer with a heart. On many missions performed by Brad Pitt’s character in Spy Game, he comes to terms with who he is and what he is fighting for. And just when it’s about to turn into a cliché, Spy Game throws you for a loop.

It’s the human side of Tom that the CIA, along with his mentor Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), doesn’t like. Throughout the film, Nathan tells his pupil, “If it comes down to you or her, send a card.” In love and in life, Nathan is a consummate CIA man and he never sticks his neck out for anyone else. That is until the day Tom gets into deep water and needs someone to bail him out.

This is the setup for Spy Game, a highly enjoyable drama about one man discovering he has a heart on the last day he has a chance to use it. Redford is getting old, and it’s fitting that the battle he fights here is one from behind a desk. Using every resource and contact he has made during his 30-year stint in the cloak-and-dagger business, Nathan attempts to save Tom from execution within the typical 24-hour time limit (that sometimes annoyingly reminds us of how much time is left with a cheesy freeze-frame).

Tom has “gone off the reservation” in an unauthorized rescue mission gone awry, and his life will come at the expense of politics unless Nathan can spend his last day on the job saving him instead of planning his own retirement.

The story is told in flashbacks from when Tom and Nathan met in Vietnam (the movie is set in 1991) to when Nathan recruited him to be a secret agent man. This approach could have failed if the screenwriters didn’t come in when they needed to and come up with a point.

Minor distractions come with the blatant use of subliminal advertising as well as doing the math about how old Tom is supposed to be. If it’s 1991, and Tom looks like he’s 30 during the height of the Vietnam War, which would have been 1970, then why does it look like he’s 30 when he’s captured? It’s not to say Pitt doesn’t do a fine job – if anything, his performance is to the contrary – but the timeline gets confusing.

Another problem comes with a five-minute-plus dialogue between the two heroes, which takes place atop a building in Beruit with a sign for Fugi Film that looks as out of place as if the actors’ roles were reversed. After a slow pan later of a Coca-Cola sign, it becomes apparent the filmmakers cared just as much about funding the film as telling the story.

But other than that, Spy Game is not your typical Hollywood fare where everything is handed to you. There’s so much going on with all of Nathan’s tricks that paying attention eventually pays off when the film hits its climax and all the pieces of the puzzle fit into place.

It’s a joy to watch a film that sticks to solid storytelling and is supported by fine acting and exciting action sequences. It’s the human side of Tom and the newly found human side of Nathan that ultimately make Spy Game work.

It is ironic that the film portrays CIA agents as so removed from human feelings when their sole purpose is to protect humans.

The irony makes for a compelling film, as long as you’re willing to sit back and enjoy it for what it is – an exercise in escapism where it’s important for good to win during a time of uncertainty and sacrifices.

  • Spy Game is Rated R