[box cover]

Spy Game

Think the office politics in your workplace is bad? Consider office politics at the Central Intelligence Agency. As Tony Scott's Spy Game (2001) suggests, it's a lot of the same passive-aggressive inquiries, cover-your-ass strategies, and searches for plausible fall-guys — only with human lives in the balance. Scott's heady film, written by Michael Frost Beckner, concerns veteran CIA operator Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), who finds himself in the midst of a high-level internal investigation when one of his former contractors, Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), is arrested by the Chinese government after a failed prison break. Since Bishop was never official CIA and is now considered a "rogue," it's unclear why he was trying to get somebody out of a Chinese lockup — or even who it was — but as Muir undergoes a lengthy interview with the head spooks, he soon realizes the President has only 24 hours to claim Bishop, and a lot of folks would rather see the entire problem disappear and not damage ongoing trade negotiations. Recorded and videotaped, Muir explains his history with Bishop, including operations in Vietnam, Berlin, and Lebanon. But at the same time he tries to keep the brass at arm's length, hoping to launch a rescue attempt to free his wayward apprentice. As an espionage thriller, Spy Game has a great deal to recommend it, in particular its two stars. Robert Redford remains one of the great leading men of American cinema, and like Clint Eastwood he has demonstrated remarkable sturdiness in his later years, able to select roles that utilize his age rather than ignore it. Brad Pitt, Hollywood's blonde boy du juer, may have those dashing good looks, although his talent is not to be underestimated, and Spy Game is a fun chance to see popular A-listers from two generations in a mentor/trainee tale. However, some of the script's plot mechanics are unsatisfying — the core of the story concerns Muir's skill at simply telling stories (i.e., fibbing a bit) in order to buy time, but this appealing premise shares the stage with lengthy flashback sequences that, while entertaining in their own right, do not necessarily contribute to Muir's current predicament. And while we are asked to believe that the Muir/Bishop relationship covers nearly 25 years, in none of the flashbacks do Redford or Pitt look any younger. On the whole, Scott's less-intellectual Enemy of the State (1998) is a more cohesive story, and a better high-tech thrill-ride. Spy Game earns its points thanks to an ambitious, almost literary approach to the material, the engrossing flashback stories, and Scott's skill behind the camera. In an era when action movies tend to disorient the viewer more than they entertain, Tony Scott is perhaps the only person working in the genre who knows how to lay on the rapid-edit stylistics without inducing a bad case of motion sickness. Universal's Spy Game: Collector's Edition is a generous package, offering a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 (French 5.1 and English and Spanish subtitles are also here). Supplements include "on the fly" links to behind-the-scenes material, a commentary from director Scott, a second track with producer Marc Abraham and Douglas Wick, nine deleted/alternate scenes with commentary from Scott, a brief look at Scott's storyboard process, notes on CIA hiring requirements, the theatrical trailer, production notes, cast/crew notes, "Total Axess" DVD-ROM links to online supplements, and promotional items. Keep-case.
—JJB



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