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Overall Rating
3.77

Awesome: 23.08%
Worth A Look52.56%
Average: 6.41%
Pretty Bad: 14.1%
Total Crap: 3.85%

4 reviews, 54 user ratings


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Spy Game
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Tedious Redford/Pitt espionage thing; never gets going."
2 stars

The tiniest things can take you out of a movie, and often the spell-breakers have more to do with you than with the movie. So I confess the following quirk: In general, if there's a sequence in an English-language film spoken in another language with subtitles, and a word in one of the subtitles is misspelled, it's hard for me to believe anything else that movie tells me. 'Spy Game' commits this sin against teachers everywhere within the first ten minutes (the word in question, in case you wondered, is "inoculations" -- or, according to the film, "innoculations").

But then it's a measure of how uninvolving a movie is that something so minuscule and silly can register so jarringly. Spy Game is of a breed I'm not terribly enamored of -- the big Hollywood intrigue thriller -- but I went to it hoping for some electric byplay between Robert Redford, the Brad Pitt of his day, and Brad Pitt, the Robert Redford of his day (the two, of course, have bonded cinematically before -- Redford behind the camera and Pitt in front, for A River Runs Through It). Unfortunately, they get only a handful of scenes together, none of which play off the old-lion-passing-the-torch-to-the-young-cub subtext we expect. Once Redford and Pitt signed on, couldn't the screenwriters (Michael Frost Beckner and David Arata) have had some fun with the meeting of past and present icons?

Redford is Nathan Muir, the sort of cynical CIA veteran who has a half-torched flag hanging in his office. In 1975, in the twilight of the Vietnam War, Nathan took a promising soldier -- Tom Bishop (Pitt) -- under his wing, instructing him in the art of espionage. We see this, and other past dealings between the mentor and his protege, in flashbacks; the heart of the story unfolds in 1991, when Tom has been captured in China after a botched attempt to free a prisoner. The movie thus spans sixteen years of experience, but despite the cinematographer's best efforts, Tom looks the same age in 1991 as he does in 1975, and, rather embarrassingly for Redford despite some obvious makeup, so does Nathan.

Flashback structures like this one are nearly impossible to bring off, because Tom, for us, exists almost entirely in the past. Nathan keeps launching into anecdotes while sitting in CIA meetings (the agency wants to leave Tom in China to be executed, not wanting to risk America's fragile trade relations with that country); some of the stories may be fudged -- Nathan doesn't trust the CIA personnel as far as he can throw them, and may be tossing in or leaving out details meant to confuse them -- but after a while you stop caring what's true and what isn't. The movie is essentially a long meeting, allowing Redford to hold forth, grin cynically at what's become of his agency, and coast on his matinee-idol charisma. Pitt fares even less well -- wasn't he supposed to be yearning to stop doing this sort of Hollywood fluff? Spy Game regresses him back to 1997 and the days of The Devil's Own.

Director Tony Scott strains to keep things moving -- boy, does he ever. At several points he gives us a black-and-white freeze frame reminding us of the deadline to save Tom from execution; it's a bad, laughable idea, and will look as goofy twenty years from now as similar flourishes in '70s movies look today. But Scott, a marginally talented hack who's managed to avoid wrecking a couple of good scripts (True Romance and Crimson Tide), can't shoo away the feeling that we're spending two hours waiting for the movie to get started. We get tired action bits in the flashbacks, and then we keep going back to Nathan playing tired cat-and-mouse games with CIA fools.

By-the-numbers scripts like this are what Hollywood should be inoculating itself against -- excuse me, "innoculating."

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5637&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/25/07 12:53:24
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User Comments

9/22/17 morris campbell good 4 stars
7/24/10 bagwell5 In my top 20 for the 2000's. I really enjoyed the flashback segments. 5 stars
12/25/09 Jeff Wilder Redford and Pitt are good. But the overall story adds up to not much. 3 stars
10/13/08 Shaun Wallner Great Movie!! 5 stars
5/27/08 PAUL SHORTT PONDEROUS AND BULKY, SWADDLED IN AN AURA OF FLIMSY IMPORT 1 stars
1/15/07 David Pollastrini saw it but have no memory so it must have sucked 2 stars
1/09/06 WiseMan Its like a more Realistic Belivable James Bond Movie 5 stars
11/15/05 Wendy Sue plot loose at times, but kept me interested 4 stars
8/18/05 ES Only bad thing is Pitt-iful 4 stars
2/21/05 Captain Craig A realistic look (I think) at how the CIA really works. 4 stars
12/10/04 Kristina Williams good looking guys and shit blowing up. All I need in life. 4 stars
4/30/04 Boris Brilliant! Somehow it works despite the inherent lack of action. Redford is quality viewing 5 stars
3/28/04 r Very Kinetic: Both the story and camera the never stop moving. 5 stars
3/15/04 R.W. Welch Intriguing plot, convincing performances. Redford's best in a while. 4 stars
11/29/03 john great script and Redford is as good as he's ever been - remarkable 5 stars
8/08/03 francis Interesting story, pity about confusing delivery, ageless characters, and incredibility 4 stars
7/28/03 Alex Has too much to go get through for its running time, and pays for it, but still entertainin 4 stars
7/17/03 Mr. Hat Really exciting, well-acted, entertaining. Good screenplay and directing. 5 stars
3/25/03 Jack Sommersby Can't keep its mind on any one thing for long, and the result is frustrating. 2 stars
8/03/02 The Man Good enough for one viewing. Pitt and Redford not aging is distracting. 4 stars
7/28/02 Kyle Started out interesting. Ended shitty. 2 stars
7/14/02 sdjfsdkjf the first 10 mins with Pitt were interesting then it just grew fucken boring. 3 stars
7/06/02 Film Guy I Was kick ass surprised 4 stars
6/23/02 wyrock boring, confusing, James Bond still rules 2 stars
6/23/02 Phil M. Aficionado Redford, Pitt, and the location work make a ho-hum film better than it is. Slick filming. 4 stars
5/17/02 Nicola Green yr ded 5 stars
4/30/02 Phoenix Has some good moments, but overall it's dull. 3 stars
4/27/02 Mo Anand The movie had a very slow start...but picked up. Luckily it's a great cast 4 stars
4/19/02 Monday Morning Good fast-paced drama. Plot twists are NOT that predictable. 5 stars
4/09/02 lauren mccreight not bad....but nothing special either... 3 stars
2/22/02 Kristi Fun Movie 5 stars
2/17/02 John Lyons Good part for Redford. He's still the good guy standing up to the evil establishment. 5 stars
2/13/02 Jimbo Well made but overall it is fairly predictable. Worth A Look 4 stars
2/10/02 David A. One of the few believable spy movies--I could relate to the characters. 5 stars
1/14/02 ju j 1 stars
12/21/01 Johnny Walker Cool movie. Really. Thought it would stink but no. The fast camera crap is now passe tho... 4 stars
12/16/01 spaceworm Redford star-persona low-key acting tutorial for Brad. 4 stars
12/08/01 Martin Quite good 3+/5 4 stars
12/05/01 spencer bailey kick ass movie...not the greatest spy movie, but definitely up thier 4 stars
12/04/01 Obi Wan Good sitting. The little action it did have was very good. A Should See. 4 stars
12/03/01 FrayLo Disorienting at first; still a great movie 4 stars
12/02/01 John Mitchell I wish our spyies were this good 4 stars
12/01/01 The Alter Ego This is one LAME-ASS PIECE OF SHIT. Brad Pitt sucks big fat hairy ass. 1 stars
12/01/01 dkentropy Good Story. Great acting. Execellent flow and feel to the film. A great film 5 stars
11/30/01 Mr. Hat (formerly Joe Zappa) The best part was the huge fucking explosion. 3 buildings in a row were half-gone! Kickass! 4 stars
11/30/01 Xalt Intelligent romance. Amazing story. Cool spy stuff. See it. 5 stars
11/30/01 speedy Great flick..must see for espionage buffs 5 stars
11/29/01 kishuta A great view into what spys really do. Paper work. 5 stars
11/27/01 damon_dee brad pitt is one cool fucking bastard 5 stars
11/27/01 wintermute Hehe.That wily, foxy robert redford outsmarting them all. Shut the fuck up. 2 stars
11/26/01 asdfk; I expected more; Nice photography; Pleasant yet not quite filling 3 stars
11/26/01 danger_boy Suprisingly good... I could not believe it. 5 stars
11/25/01 poetchuck Interesting tension inside "The Company" 4 stars
11/22/01 Superdave Excellent! 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  21-Nov-2001 (R)
  DVD: 09-Apr-2002

UK
  23-Nov-2001 (15)

Australia
  24-Jan-2002 (M)




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