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'Spy Game'

'Spy Game' taut thriller despite complicated plot

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

Rarely have I so greatly enjoyed a spy thriller I so completely didn't understand. But such is the bottom line of director Tony Scott's "Spy Game," featuring something old and something new by way of blond mega-stars with good hair.

"Spy Game"

RATING: R for language, some violence and brief nudity

STARRING: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, LarryBryggman

DIRECTOR: Tony Scott

WEB SITE: www.spygame.net



Robert Redford is CIA veteran Nathan Muir, who long ago in 'Nam recruited sharpshooter Tom Bishop, played by Brad Pitt. Mentor and protege shared many warm moments together in international espionage but are long since estranged. Bishop started out as an idealist (don't we all?) but has gone "rogue" on the agency. Caught spying in China, he is set to be executed -- tomorrow morning.

The CIA thinks it's much too risky to try to rescue him. Muir thinks otherwise and sets forth to do it on his own. All in all, he must outsmart the Viet Cong, the KGB, the East German Vopos and -- for all we know -- Osama bin Laden.

Trouble is, screenwriters Michael Frost Beckner and David Arata outsmart the audience. Their story, set in 1991, flashes back to the Vietnam War, forward through the hot to the Cold War, the Mideast War, the Gulf War and into the Postmodern War on Terrorism, rolling 'em all into one.

You might as well. None of them makes any more sense than another. Along the way, Pitt falls in love with a dangerous Red Cross aid worker (Catherine McCormack), who serves to complicate matters, as if matters needed any further complication.

There's a lot of excitement and good editing as the pawns in this hot-and-cold spy game chase each other through its episodes. If only we had a scorecard to refer to and keep everybody straight. I mean, I was PAYING ATTENTION -- and never got it.

Nevertheless, "Spy Game" is well-acted and paced, with a minimum of violence and more than the usual passing nod to the psychological and ethical issues of the profession, even if (intentionally or un-) it plays on our current Muslim-o-phobia. But I dream of someday seeing a spy film in which the CIA is NOT the villain. And I dream of playing the lead myself -- Agent Rex Cavalier -- ever so sympathetically, in the Brando-DeNiro alienated mold.

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