What You Need To Know:
SPY GAME is not an anti-American diatribe, though it does not paint a pretty picture of the greedy CIA. Robert Redford’s Nathan Muir is the fountainhead of superspies who seems to have a deeper understanding of right and wrong and a better wit than everyone else. Regrettably, his right includes multiple affairs, blowing up civilians to get a terrorist, sacrificing innocent people to save his skin, and embroiling the U.S. Air Force to rescue Tom Bishop. SPY GAME could have been a good movie, but a little understanding of moral virtue by the filmmakers would have sharpened the distinction between good and evil in the story and improved the movie tremendously.
(, LLL, VVV, S, NN, A, D, M) Radical Ayn Rand holier-than-thou individualism, strong humanist underpinning, with libertarian elements; 30 obscenities & 12 profanities; lots of violence including man simulates electrocution, prisoners inoculated in Chinese prison, prisoner kicked & beaten until his face is a bloody pulp, buildings blown to smithereens, arms, and other wounds, wounded children shown, amputees, car chase, accidents, machine-gunning, sniper shoots general in shoulder & forehead; no fornication shown but unmarried couple in bed & Chinese agent leers over BAY WATCH, plus references to adultery & fornication; upper male nudity in bedroom scene; drinking to excess with no effect shown; smoking & exotic drugs; and, deception & lying extolled.
In SPY GAME, Robert Redford plays retiring CIA superspy Nathan Muir, a man who is smarter, wiser and holier in his own humanist way than anyone else in the agency. He even trumps James Bond by drinking his scotch straight.
The movie opens on April 14, 1999 as a group of medics rush into Su Chou Prison to inoculate prisoners against a cholera outbreak. Soon, the audience realizes that these doctors are really spies and recognizes Brad Pitt, who doesn’t look Chinese and is playing another superspy, Tom Bishop, as he fakes an electrocution and his own death so he can sneak into the political prison area and rescue someone. On the way out, Tom gets caught, and the movie cuts to Washington D.C., where superspy Nathan Muir gets a message that Tom Bishop is being held by the Chinese and will be executed in 24 hours. Get it? The clock is ticking.
Nathan does not trust anybody in the contemporary CIA. The Chinese may be villains as the audience glimpses them beating Tom Bishop to a pulp, but the CIA has been compromised by its desire to make money off the trade with the Chinese. Nathan has reason to distrust the new bureaucracy at the CIA, especially Charles Harker, who disdains Nathan’s old school, Ivy League brilliance. Nathan takes pleasure in outwitting Harker and even embarrassing him. He quickly discerns they’re going to let the Chinese kill Tom so as not to disrupt the trade talks.
In the midst of the race against time, Nathan spends long periods briefing the CIA top brass on his training of and involvement with Tom Bishop many years ago. His stories are punctuated by flashbacks to the 1970s where Bishop wears some foolish mod clothes and Redford needs more than bushy sideburns to revive the youth of his well-weathered and aging face.
SPY GAME is not an anti-American diatribe, though it does not paint a pretty picture of the greedy contemporary CIA. In the movie, the Chinese Communists are mean and rotton, the Lebanese and Arab terrorists are abhorrent, the radical hippie, pro-Arab fanatic is mocked, and in fact nobody comes off very well except for Robert Redford’s Nathan Muir. He is the fountainhead of superspies who seems to have a deeper understanding of right and wrong and certainly a better wit than everyone else. Regrettably, his right includes multiple affairs, blowing up civilians to get a terrorist, sacrificing innocent people to save his skin, and embroiling the U.S. Air Force in a rescue at Su Chou Prison. It also involves disobeying authority, mocking your superiors and showing everyone else just how stupid they are.
This radical individualism is not surprising considering the background of some of the filmmakers, but it ignores the only true standard of right and wrong, which is God and the Bible. While God protects and values the individual, He also asks the individual to respect those in authority. There is a comprehensive view toward politics presented in the Bible, which respects individual rights and the rights of others and those in authority. It is this view which Ayn Rand never understood. She hated the Communism from which she fledm, but also disdained the Christianity she didn’t understand. Whether directly or indirectly, her ideas seem to permeate this movie, making Robert Redford’s character very obnoxious, unless you’re a 15-year-old who has delusions of your own superior invincibility.
The camerawork, photography and special effects are superior as should be expected in this type of movie. Robert Redford is too much Robert Redford, but he is surrounded by a good supporting cast, and Brad Pitt does the incredible of becoming his role of Tom Bishop, traveling the arc from Boy Scout idealism to hardened cynicism. The script is noticeably illogical in places, although the filmmakers play with special effects, bombings, killings and other emotive devices to cover up the plot holes.
Surprisingly, there’s almost no onscreen sex in the movie, but there are some pointed profanities and lots of violence. The scenes of Brad Pitt being beaten by the Chinese become redundant and gruesome. The victims of the bombings in Beirut lined up in stretchers are oppressive with adults and children missing arms and legs, covered in blood, and groaning and moaning. Of course this is a spy drama that focuses on war zones, and the blood and guts are exploited to their full extent.
SPY GAME could have been a good movie. Action-adventure fans may support it at the box office. However, a little understanding of moral virtue by the filmmakers would have sharpened the distinction between good and evil in the story and improved the movie tremendously.