Robert Redford plays the Spy Game (2001)
Spy Game (2001) is an espionage thriller starring Robert Redford, with Brad Pitt in a glorified cameo. The biggest problem with this movie isn’t the dialogue or the drama, but it isn’t a deep exploration of anything because it’s just a popcorn movie filled with superficial thrills. The themes are good ones, and the old generation takes on the new generation, with Robert Redford leading the way. In fact, he saves this movie from falling into generic stupidity, although it isn’t very hard to stick out amongst the stereotypes.
The superficial thrills are plentiful, although they are enjoyable. We get exotic Middle Eastern locales and a modern backdrop, but the most interesting part of the whole movie is Brad Pitt and Robert Redford working together on-screen as CIA operatives. If the whole movie was about their characters in the field, I would have liked this movie a lot more, but that doesn’t happen. The interaction between Redford and Pitt all happens in flashback, as the movie tells their backstory, and Redford mostly sits in an office telling his pals about what happened in his illustrious career. This is depicting the action and drama second and third-hand, which is annoying.
When we do get to the flashbacks, they are well-acted. I can recall one scene in particular where Redford accuses Pitt of getting too close to a contact, and they argue for a few minutes. The whole thing is dropped though, as a big explosion makes their disagreement moot anyway, which is kinda a stupid short-cut out. The movie has many of these stupid short-cuts, as it never dwells on the emotional drama for too long. The movie is directed by Tony Scott, an action director, responsible for Days of Thunder (1990) and The A-Team (2010), so it’s no wonder the shots don’t linger on the characters too long.
The stereotypes are pretty obvious in the cast. Redford is the grizzled veteran, and Pitt is the heated youngster, a character so thin and so simple, he confesses his CIA secrets to a woman he falls in love with, because that’s what emotional youngsters do. Redford is grizzled, so he has no such emotional faux-pauxs. Stephen Dillane plays a dirty, rotten paper-pusher out to ruin the character of Redford, and he sits at a table smirking with his bureaucratic pals, like any good paper-pushing jerk would do.
Only Catherine McCormick has a fully fleshed-out character. She has been in a lot of movies where she’s the exotic love-interest, but in Spy Game she’s a medic operating a relief effort in Beirut. Pitt discovers she’s also a radical and a fanatic, and she deals with other radicals and fanatics, but only to help people, of course. Their argument is the only time Brad Pitt has a chance to stretch himself and angst like a good emotional youngster would do.
The new generation of CIA leaders are paranoid and have black-and-white ethics, while Redford mortgages his house to pay off a contact to save Pitt from a middle eastern prison. The youngsters smirk at his antics, and the paper-pusher rubs his forehead like a good stereotype, whining about how much of a pain Redford is. The movie simplifies the new generation, as they think about how things are going to look on CNN, as they become mired in political correct-ness. In contrast, Redford merely flies by the seat of his pants and uses an old-fashioned type-writer to remind us he’s old-fashioned. Duh.
Overall, Spy Game is an average movie, but has a good visual style and a decent story. There’s nothing deep about it though, and it really doesn’t make any conclusions about the generational conflict it uses to move the plot. Redford doesn’t get caught or arrested for skirting the rules, and Pitt escapes the prison with his one-true-love, smiling at her and Redford’s ingenuity. Meanwhile, Robert Redford tries to hold up this superficial movie with his performance, while Catherine McCormick has an easier time with her character. Overall, there are deeper things to be had in Three Days of the Condor (1975) or All the President’s Men (1976), but Spy Game is meant to be a time-waster.