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Dan Heller's Movie Review of "Spy Game"


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Brad Pitt
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The buzz about the new film, Spy Game is true: it's an engrossing, yet flawed film, well made with the highest-quality Hollywood production technology, but with a plot that eventually droops to a mild yawn.

Set in 1991, Spy Game starts with promise: Brad Pitt plays Tom Bishop, a CIA agent disguised as an American aid worker, inoculating Chinese prisoners in the hopes of breaking someone else out. But, he gets caught and is held in custody by the Chinese, who will execute him in exactly 24 hours. (Start tacky timer countdown in black and white.)

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Robert Redford
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The top brass at the CIA want to know all they can about Bishop, so they call in Nathan Muir, played by Robert Redford. He recruited and trained Bishop as a CIA agent in the 70s and 80s, but the two became estranged in a falling out over moral grounds concerning the agency's practice of using people as "expendable assets". When Muir figures out that the CIA is willing to sacrifice Bishop to avoid an international incident a week before the USA is to have talks about China's entering into the World Trade Organization, he has a change of heart. So, while he's briefing the CIA on Bishop, he is, at the same time behind the scenes, trying to have Bishop rescued, cloak and dagger style, before the clock runs out.

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Most of the film takes the form of flashbacks to establish the relationship between Muir, the senior streetwise agent who knows the dirty business of being a spy, and Bishop, the young, na´ve idealist who has moral qualms about killing innocent people for the greater good of national and global security. These differences of moral foundations come to a head when Bishop ends up falling in love with a woman who seems like an aid worker, but could also be an agent for someone else.

While this all sounds like a great plotline, the problem is that there are no gray lines between the oversimplified innocence and na´vetÚ of Bishop and the harsh realities of Muir's world. When Bishop falls in love with a shady figure we know little about, and with no insight into her feelings for Bishop or anything else, we're left with the main puzzle
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piece missing: why is any of this happening? There are other lingering questions, like: if the agency is set on sacrificing Bishop, why bother bringing in Muir to learn more about him? Bishop's well-intended attempt to free the mysterious prisoner in the Chinese prison is visually gallant and heroic, but once we learn all the details, it, too, is unremarkable, not to mention questionable.

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In the end, nothing that anyone did really mattered, and you're left with a dry, empty feeling that it was just a big exercise in filmmaking. Yes, it's entertaining, complete with fast-paced testosterone-filled action sequences and dramatic scenes and a politically-correct message with great intentions, yet in the end, is all gloss and ten years too late.

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