Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by:Michael Frost Beckner, David Arata
Starring: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane
Released: January 24, 2002
Grade: B

1991.  On his final day before retirement, CIA agent Nathan Muir (Redford) receives word that an old partner, Tom Bishop (Pitt), has been arrested in China.  Attempting to free a prisoner from jail, Tom was captured and found guilty of espionage.  He is to be killed in 24 hours.  In America, Nathan is meeting with top CIA officials who seem to have no intention of helping Tom and are content to let him die.  Nathan owes Tom a favour and will use all his power and experience to have him rescued.

1975.  Fighting in Vietnam, Nathan needs a marksman to eliminate a military leader and is introduced to rookie Tom Bishop.  Tom learnt his craft in the “boy scouts” and has a deadly aim.  Nathan senses much ability in him and one year later, offers him a lucrative opportunity to train and become a CIA agent.

1985.  In Beirut, Tom and Nathan are working together on an important assignment.  An important leader is to be killed but the death has to be made look an accident.  With a narrow window of opportunity, months are spent setting up the operation but Tom falls for a young medical assistant (McCormack) and may have lost sight of the mission (for better or worse).  It’s a turning point in all their careers.

Screenwriters Michael Breckner and David Arata effectively tell both the present and the past story simultaneously.  It’s well told and maximum value is extracted from its two hour length.  Questionably, both Pitt and Redford look the same in 1975 as they do in 1991.  Surely a little extra make-up could have been used.

The film’s premise is interesting for two reasons.  Firstly, we get a close look at how a spy operates and how they develop the skills that keeps them hidden and removed from suspicion.  Secondly, we get a look at the CIA and their extraordinary ability to obtain information about anyone or anything.  Both concepts are well explored but slight annoyances arose from moments that were a little too hard to believe.  The cool ending will please audiences but it doesn’t suit the tone of the film and I consider it far-fetched.

Pitt and Redford cruise through their performances.  Both are solid but neither will list their roles as a career highlight on their resumes.  Academy Award nominee Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Secrets And Lies) makes a nice cameo as Nathan’s secretary but her talent is wasted in such a small role.  As a CIA agent intent on exposing Nathan’s activities, Stephen Dillane behaves stupidly.  One with his position and qualifications shouldn’t so easily outsmarted.  The same must be said for the entire group that met at the boardroom at CIA headquarters.

Director Tony Scott seems to attracted to stories about power and its effects with Spy Game following his previous efforts, Enemy At The State and Crimson Tide.  The formula behind all three films is similar and if they didn’t climax with the obligatory crowd-pleasing Hollywood ending, may have left a more lasting impression.