Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), a CIA operative about to retire, receives a phone call from Hong Kong on the morning of his retirement. Hurry to the office and read the cable. At CIA Headquarters, Muir learns that Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) has been taken prisoner by the Chinese government for trying to help a prisoner escape. Muir’s supervisors want to hear all about Tom, an operative trained by Muir. Muir quickly learns that Tom may be sacrificed and sets about saving his former protégé.
“Spy Game”, the new film directed by Tony Scott and starring Redford and Pitt, is a satisfyingly good film. Almost surprisingly so. Scott is a good director, but he edits his films very fast, almost as though he is catering to the MTV Generation. He may very well be doing that, but if so, the film has a lot of story, seasoned actors, and a complicated story, elements not usually associated with an MTV Generation film.
Redford is very good cast as the aging CIA operative. Much of the film is told in flashback as he recounts the training of Tom Bishop. These scenes are actually the best because they allow the actors to create a relationship, a bond between the characters which is interesting to watch. Redford conveys an authority that Bishop picks up on and almost embraces. He becomes the father figure that Pitt’s character needs. He also manages to convey emotion when his character isn’t supposed to convey any. It is interesting to watch Redford play against Pitt; I can see the similarities between Redford at Pitt’s age and Pitt’s acting now. If Pitt manages to create half the library that Redford has, his career will be well-remembered.
A significant portion of the film is set in 1991, present day in the film’s timeline. These scenes focus on Muir trying to learn about Bishop’s situation and smack of an artificial air. These scenes are interesting but Muir learns way too many things by catching glimpses of things out of the corner of his eye, or holding fake conversations during the middle of an interrogation. All of these scenes are set in CIA Headquarters. They make the rest of the staff working at the CIA appear to be buffoons.
As the story careens back and forth, in both time and between places, I became increasingly involved in the story and was able to overlook the excessive editing. The flashbacks, ranging from the Vietnam War to the conflict in Lebanon, show Bishop as he matures and the relationship with Muir deepens. As they are both spies, outward emotion is frowned upon, so it is interesting to watch Pitt and Redford display what emotions they can and to make these characters empathetic.
The editing is still on my mind. At times, this works. For instance, there will be a master shot, establishing a town square for instance. Then the camera will find an element, move quickly towards it and turn slightly, showing us where Muir is, in a landscape. This seems successfully evocative of an actual spy mission. But this type of effect is carried to extremes and over-done, making it difficult to concentrate on things for very long.
Another interesting thing about the film is the pacing. Most of the flashback sequences are exciting and fast-paced. The scenes set in 1991 are much, much slower.I don't mind this, but it is another inconsistency, especially as the film appears to be geared towards the MTV crowd.
Despite the over-editing and the ease with which Muir finds out confidential information, I recommend “Spy Game” for the engaging characters created by Redford and Pitt.