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Movie Review

Spy Game

MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence and brief sexuality.

Reviewed by: Carole McDonnell

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Primary Audience:
2 hr. 7 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Featuring: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Larry Bryggman
Director: Tony Scott
Producer: Douglas Wick, Marc Abraham
Distributor: Universal Pictures

“Spy Game” is ostensibly about the CIA and Cold war espionage. Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) was mentor of Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) a sniper-turned CIA agent. Bishop has been captured while trying to free someone from a Chinese prison. In former times, the CIA would try to save him, but in these times when free trade is important—an international conference is coming up—the CIA can’t afford to save him. (It doesn’t help matters that Bishop seems to have been on some mission the CIA knows nothing about.) They must feed him to the lions and appease the Chinese. As Nathan says early on to his protégé, the spy game is all about trading people like they’re cars. On Bishop’s last day of work, the CIA calls him in to debrief him. They need something bad on Bishop—anything. This is where the real drama comes in. Because, while the story’s main plot is about espionage, the real story is about young upstarts who think they know more than retiring oldies. The movie makes us aware that the good ole’ US of A—symbol of truth, justice, and the American way—has been in quite a few wars: covert or otherwise. And rumors of war (propaganda) and media manipulation can either save Bishop or give him up.

Robert Redford and Brad Pitt in Spy Game

There are agendas upon agendas. The CIA suits don’t want to tell Nathan more than is necessary. Nathan wants to save his friend. And sure the audience wants Bishop freed, he’s one of those sweetly perfect patriotic murdering machines one can only find in movies. He can murder and feel bad about it—but not too bad. No post-traumatic stress disorder or guilty conscience for this all-American and cuddly-cute zen-type operative. Nathan wants Bishop free. So of course the audience wants him freed. But what the audience really wants is for those young upstarts to get what’s coming to them. As the story progresses, we find ourselves truly getting impatient with the “suits” who are so self-impressed and so sure of themselves. They are new-fangled; he is obsolete, an old fogie who is to be tricked and ignored as soon as they have taken from him what he needs. The new corporate types think they hold the right cards. But we know all the time that Nathan has some kind of trump card waiting.

One of the characters in this movie is a kind of fanatical pacifist figure. Okay, it’s good to have a kind of character who symbolizes passionate commitment to peace. After all, in the movie, the CIA has lost its bearings and seems to be just as bad in some respects as the “bad” guys. They allow people to be killed, turn innocent people into murderers. So this pacifist figure affects the conscience of one of our heroes. But she is also another character who does what is expedient. Whatever is necessary to forward her humanitarian cause. it’s obvious the moviemakers want us to love her (there is this very annoying holy soundtrack that pops up every time she appears in a scene). But I can’t like her wholeheartedly. Compromise and expedience—even for goodness sake—is not a Christian virtue. Still, it’s nice to have a movie in which old age is revered. All those teen movies with know-it-all youths were getting kinda tiresome. So it’s nice to see a movie that tells us that there is wisdom in old age. The plot is nice and historical, reminding me of movies like “The Sting” and old cold war movies.

Some folks may not like to have a movie question the nobility of the CIA but let’s face it: the rules of nobility and fair play are for Christian people, not for a nation. God saves people and individuals, not nations. Overall, the acting is great. (Although the young upstarts sneer way too often and their scorn for Nathan is over-apparent.) But kudos to the producers for giving Nathan a faithful black secretary as a faithful helper. Speaking of rumors of war and media manipulation, little acting choices like that help chip away at the subtle racism found in other movies. But the best thing about the movie is this: once again, a movie proves what we all know: nothing is more stupid than a group of young corporate suits around a table, arrogantly assuming they know more than their elders and smugly thinking they hold all the cards.

The violence is heavy, but expected knowing the nature of the film. Profanity includes about 16 “f” words, about 14 uses of God’s name in vain, and other crude language. Sexual situations are minimal, though some cleavage and suggestive material is present.

Viewer Comments
Positive—I know that it is early in the year but I am going to say that this is going to be one the best movies of 2002. The acting is brilliant, the dialog is easy to follow and a lot of emotional fun. The music score is probably the best I’ve heard in a long time with temperate tunes, fitting beats and beautiful ethnic vocals. I bought the score on CD from “The Power of One” and I am going to buy this one too. The film is impacting, the colours are brilliant and I loved the story line. Brad and Robert work brilliantly together, Robert playing the cool idealistic mentor and Brad the slightly rebellious and charismatic protégé. Spy Game is rated M15+ here in Australia, R in the US and Canada PG-13. Go figure—Go see it.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Dave T, age 23
Positive—A good drama with an redemptive ending, great acting and directing (especially in the conference table dialogs) and a lot of cool culture scenes. Since nobody else has mentioned it, the music was most excellent. Techno-rock, haunting Arabic wails, and a boy’s voice singing in some foreign language that brought us back to watch the movie a second time just to hear it again. The soundtrack to this movie is just plain gorgeous. Also groundbreaking is the rooftop argument scene, which is perhaps one of the more “notice me” examples of some very clever camera work employed throughout the film. There are so many cuts and swoops and strange camera angles it is surprising the scene works, but it does and sticks in the memory long after you leave. This is the best made film we have seen in many years. Nits are that the girl just didn’t work as a believable romantic interest, and that little effort was made to make Robert Redford look younger in his Vietnam days.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Dean and Laura VanDruff, age 31
Positive—I really like this movie. What great talent these two actors have! Robert Redford is so amazing. It almost seemed like he stepped up into Paul Newman’s shoes, and Brad Pitt stepped into Robert Redford’s shoes. Remember how great “The Sting” is? it’s like a new generation of that. Their relationship, while mostly professional, finds a way to be personal and thoughtful. And I like the ambiguity surrounding Brad Pitt’s “love interest”, suggesting that maybe he doesn’t really love her. Maybe he’s just using her to get what he wants. We don’t know for sure until the end. I just love the cleverness of the characters. And the direction by Tony Scott is exciting and fast paced. Some of the shots are just terrific, like in the scene on top of the building, which is a great scene. And Catherine McCormick is very good also in her second spy film this year (The other being “The Tailor of Panama”). I didn’t find anything offensive in the movie, really. Some bad language is about it…
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Jason Eaken, age 18
Positive—Well worth the watch. “Spy Game” isn’t anything like best picture material, but fine acting and an interesting suspenseful story provide a satisfying view.
My Ratings: [Average / 3½]
—Todd Adams, age 34
Positive—Going into this film, I expected an action packed flick with twists and turns galore—but the film lacked in this area. BUT… the film is wonderful on other levels. This is not an action movie, it is a first-rate drama with direction and acting that is Oscar-worthy. The film uses flashbacks to telling a touching story of the meaning of friendship. See this film—it will entertain you—and don’t let the slow beginning let you down, I guarantee, it does pick up, and when it does, you’ll be in awe!
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Anon, age 81
Positive—I found this movie thoroughly entertaining. Classic Redford and very good Brad Pitt. I agree with the review, except for the statement that God does not save nations. Yes, He does. The Bible indicates that He does.
My Ratings: [Average / 3½]
Halyna Barannik, age 55
Neutral—Overall, this was not a bad movie. The main actors, Redford and Pitt, are excellent, breathing real life into their characters, despite a pretty weak script. Therein lies this movie’s weakness, the plot is thinner than Jason Alexander’s hairline. Credibility is strained to the limit on a few of the plot twists, and I found myself going “oh sure” after a few of them. From a Christian perspective, the film had a pretty good smattering of swearing throughout, although it was not out of context, (my guess is that most CIA guys might actually talk this way!) There is some implied premarital sex but no nudity. The positive elements, without giving the ending away, were themes of personal loyalty and patriotism, although the means used to justify the ends are questionable. By the way, I see it’s been given an “R” rating in the US, here in Canada it received only a “PG-13” rating (no one, however, has any idea what these ratings mean, but I digress). There’s no way this is an “R” movie.
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Ivan Van Spronsen, age 42
Neutral—This movie had the potential of being far better, particularly given the world’s current state of affairs. Unfortunately, like so many of its kind, Spy Game attempts to paint the CIA as being diabolical. While “spying” is diabolical in general, one would question this if they lived through the Cuban missile crisis and Cold War. I do not like leaving our young people with the impression of a CIA willing to allow an American citizen to die for some greater political agenda. As with most Hollywood productions, a government agency is again depicted as inexplicable and arrogant. Spy Game presents this perspective with the exception of Robert Redford’s character. Redford represents humanity’s better side, which is victorious in this movie. God is served in this respect—life is a gift and meant to preserve. If you enjoy intense, hard-to-follow adventure movies, this is worth watching. Without the profanity, Spy Game would rate no worse than PG-13.
My Ratings: [Average / 3½]
—Paul Mackin, age 44
Positive—An excellent movie! From start to finish the movie captivates and excites. There is enough action to satisfy the eyes and a great story to satisfy the mind. I love the way one man gives all he has to save his friend’s life, even though everyone else has given up. There is minimal violence and swearing, and the only sexual content is implied sex (two waking up in bed together.) I loved this movie, one that made me think and that I walked out of with a good feeling.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Eric Ritskes, age 18
Positive—I don’t usually go for “espionage” type movies, but I really enjoyed Spy Game. This movie holds your interest from beginning to end. I thought the writing was very clever, and you leave the theater feeling as though you had been entertained. There are several uses of Christ’s name in vain, and there are some curse words. But I have seen PG-13 rated movies that were far more offensive than Spy Game. Again, I would recommend this movie, especially if you are someone who likes a movie that is unpredictable.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Rena, age 36
Positive—My husband and I saw Spy Game tonight, and I must say, we enjoyed it. It was suspenseful and intelligent, and kept us guessing up until the very end. I felt it was a story about redemption. Nathan, a man whose life philosophy is that people are to be used, and no one comes before yourself, (and a comfortable retirement) is finally transformed by an unselfish act on the behalf of his protege. I highly recommend this for adult viewers who enjoy a drama of suspense and mystery.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Susan Ford, age 37