Review: [In Memory of Tony Scott 1944-2012] SPY GAME (2001) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Review: [In Memory of Tony Scott 1944-2012] SPY GAME (2001)


Call this movie as ENEMY OF THE STATE revisited as director Tony Scott explores the espionage genre for the second time. If anyone expecting SPY GAME shares the equal or perhaps better relentless excitement that ENEMY OF THE STATE did before, be prepared to get disappointed.

At the first glance, SPY GAME is a well-shot espionage thriller propeled by Tony Scott and cinematographer Dan Mindel. Likewise, Scott's frantic MTV-like visual template is all intact here. What's more, this movie is blessed with two charismatic actors of their own generations: Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. If only Scott intends to focus his movie as a good old-fashioned, testosterone-fueled movie, it could have been worked out as a credible effort. Unfortunately, the movie barely lit up a candle.

The movie begins pretty intense and gripping enough as we follow CIA operative Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) goes undercover in a pursuit to rescue a woman from a prison in eastern China. Unfortunately he gets captured, tortured and has 24 hours before execution. By then, one might be expecting this film will paced faster in the vein of a race-against-time thriller scenario. However, shortly after that intense sequence, the movie bogs down into a series of convoluted flashbacks. Consul Harry Duncan (David Hemmings) informs Bishop's mentor, a retiring CIA spook Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), in Washington. Muir arrives at work, hides the bulk of his Bishop files, and gets called into an inevitable meeting. From here, he spends most of the movie in a conference room recalling flashbacks in his connection with Bishop -- his first encounter with him when Bishop was a sharpshooter back in Vietnam, 1975; recruiting him in East Berlin in 1976; their differences over "the game"; and finally an assassination operation in Beirut in 1985. There, Bishop fell in love with an "asset", human-rights activist Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack), violating Muir's rule about treating assets as disposable goods if you're going to survive. Then back in 1991, Muir's agency rival (Stephen Dillane) begins sniffing around, knowing that Muir knows more than he's letting on, while the higher-ups at the table let Muir play them like puppets.

The script, written by David Arata and Michael Frost Beckner, has every foreground of a thinking man's espionage thriller but none of them are showing effective subtlety here. The movie is ultimately preposterous, manily due to its slack editing. The main point between its entire flashbacks and the present scenario are frequently puts into little focus. Accompanied with Harry Gregson-Williams' pathetic music score as well as that useless onscreen deadline of 24-hour countdown before Bishop is officially executed, the movie looks dull and heavily uninspired.

Except for its solid production values, nothing else is worth recommending for. Even Robert Redford and Brad Pitt are sadly misguided. Their supposedly interesting characters are lackluster, with little sense of involvement that generates any real personalities. Hardly enough, we barely see them connect together, let alone care about them. Despite its title, the espionage set-piece here is a letdown and totally short of thrills. Quite simply, there are surprisingly lack of suspense, action and any dramatic effects this kind of genre should have at the first place.

For Tony Scott, he tries hard to subdue his usual slick direction for more grounded approach by turning this otherwise straightforward cat-and-mouse espionage thriller into a sophisticated effort. Too bad his so-called effort is more tedious and enormously empty instead.

It's a shame that the catchy tagline, "It's not how you play the game, it's how the game play you" fails miserably to live up the movie's expectation. SPY GAME is a huge disappointment, especially coming from a high-profile director like Tony Scott, who has been absent from big screen for three years since ENEMY OF THE STATE.

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