Scott Hardie | December 20, 2001
I may never understand what women see in Robert Redford's looks, but at least I can notice his acting talent. He could play the lead role in "Not Another Teen Movie" and, believeable or not in the part, create a sympathetic character and carry the dialogue.

He does most of the heavy lifting in "Spy Game," with the second-billed Brad Pitt getting maybe half an hour of screen time and third-billed Catherine McCormack getting no more than ten minutes. But I don't just mean that Redford has the lead role: His ability to fit into a role and seem completely at home there makes us believe him in the part. It allows us to make a connection to the character because we sense that he is real, even when the screenplay does virtually nothing to characterize him.

Picked on a lot by critics for its faults (I'll get to them in a minute), Spy Game's better qualities were mostly ignored. It's a smart movie that caters to an adult audience instead of teens, and, though it depends little on foreign politics, it does require the audience to know a little bit about troubles in Vietnam, Communist-era Germany, Beirut, and China. It doesn't give the characters much dialogue beyond the exposition, but you know what, that's okay: The people in this situation wouldn't be having unnecessary conversations. (For the record, the plot concerns retiring CIA man Redford's 24 hours to rescue comrade Pitt from a Chinese prison, working against his bosses who want Pitt executed.)

The primary fault of the film is the distracting style used by cinematic hack Tony Scott. He uses my second-most hatest visual trick, speeding up the film and then slowing it to normal pace within the same shot, like suddenly zooming up to a building and then slowly gliding over it without changing cameras. This is used over and fucking over again like an awful music video. (At least it doesn't use my most hated technique, when the camera slowly zooms in, then there's a white flash, and the camera zooms out from a different shot.) And the colors! Everything is so drab, in bleak blue and grey, it looks like a Matchbox Twenty video. Cinematographers who shoot in that color scheme need to be slapped. Scott is 57 years old, and his attempts to stay as "with it" as other aging directors (Oliver Stone anyone?) are just as embarrassing. The terrible irony of it is that you have a fairly smart film, that doesn't for a moment insult the audience's intelligence with its plot details or dialogue, that undermines all of that with cinematography and editing techniques designed for the morons who kill brain cells by watching music videos all day. The style is a serious detractor for the film, and will keep it off my Ten Best list next week, but at least Redford's performance and a crafty screenplay save it from completely sucking. This gets a low "It ruled," and had the potential to be better.


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