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SPY GAME
Widescreen

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Larry Bryggman
Director: Tony Scott
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 127 Minutes
Release Date: April 9, 2002

“This better be the best damn breakfast I’ve ever had.”

“It’s delicious. You’ll love it. (Overlooking gunfire in alley)…Of course we have to make to the end of the alley.”

“You’re gonna make a beautiful corpse.”

Film ***1/2

Spy Game is one of those rare occasions where everything behind the movie seemed right from the start. For one thing, the two leading stars, Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, are a dynamite pair of actors that would fit together in any movie. The reason for this is indefinitely clear; Pitt is very much the Robert Redford of his generation, right down to specific mannerisms. When Redford had become a superstar in the mid 70s, he was cited for both having looks and acting talent, and Pitt has long been in the same territory since he rose to stardom. The two had worked before on A River Runs Through It, a Redford directing project that was also one of Pitt’s first big breaks. Now Spy Game puts the two in a taut, much complicated and visually engaging action thriller from director Tony Scott, who’s a master at creating such kind of popcorn entertainment.

Set in 1991, the center plot involves the sudden capturing of CIA agent Tom Bishop (Pitt). On a mission in Beijing, Bishop has been captured and held captive by the Chinese government. The CIA has just been informed that he will be executed in 24 hours. With trade talks currently going underway, the agency is wanting to distance themselves from Bishop’s plight so that it won’t endanger the talks. Veteran agent Nathan Muir (Redford), Bishop’s longtime mentor in the agency, vows not to let his protégé hang out to dry, and devises an intricate plan to rescue him, even in the midst of revealing his entire history with Bishop in front of a room full of CIA top dogs.

Muir’s longtime partnership with Bishop is traced through flashbacks, which also reveal how ugly of a business the CIA can be. The story goes as far back as the Vietnam war, where the two first met. After witnessing what a good sharpshooter he was, Muir later meets up with Bishop in Berlin, where he is first recruited to do undercover work. During his first assignment under Muir, Bishop is ordered to leave an informant out in the open as bait, in order to set up their actual target, a decision that doesn’t sit well with Bishop. A key mission covered in their history is an assignment in Beirut, where the agency has been recruiting terrorists to wipe out other terrorists.

Tony Scott, who also directed such pulse-pounding thrillers as Enemy of the State, Crimson Tide, and True Romance, applies his unique visual genius to this espionage thriller that spans 15 years. The scenes in Vietnam are especially great because they carry a distinct look to them. The movie also makes for a rather fast 130 minutes, because here Scott has applied the same frenetic quick cut edits, a la Enemy of the State. It’s a wonder that Jerry Bruckheimer’s name is nowhere to be found in the credits. The only flaw in the movie is the handling of the film’s adversary, a slimy CIA agent (Stephen Dillane), who isn’t really an evil guy, but an agent working against the Redford character. He’s handled in something of a cartoonish mode.

Spy Game is top notch entertainment at a high mark. The pairing of Redford and Pitt is one of the best alliances in any recent movie I’ve seen lately, and this movie is the perfect opportunity to reveal how these two actors resemble one another, especially when they have a tightly written and suspenseful script to perform under. It also marks another top entry in director Tony Scott’s long list of remarkably entertaining films.

Video ***1/2

Overall, this is very much a top of the line transfer from Universal that suffers only in one brief scene, where the dimming of light obviously goes from dark to bright in the blink of an eye. Other than that flaw, this is a definite transfer, sharp and crisp as can be. Image quality is perfected, as it marks perhaps the best DVD transfer of any of Tony Scott’s movies. His last movie, Enemy of the State, was extremely well handled, but it wasn’t anamorphic. In fact, most of Scott’s movies, including True Romance and Crimson Tide, are not in anamorphic, which makes Spy Game a nice rare occasion, because this anamorphic presentation is something close to flawless.

Audio ****

I’ve heard many impressive audio tracks early in this year, but I’m already considering putting Spy Game in the running list for next year’s DMC Awards. Universal has done their homework, as they always do, with a sharp as can be audio transfer. The 5.1 audio mix perfectly captures the frenetic sound and fury of this sharp thriller, particularly in composer Harry Gregson-Williams’ nice techno-beat music score. The presentation also captures background and distinct noises extremely well. One of the all-around best DVD presentations you are likely to come across all year.

Features ****

Whenever Universal applies a Collector’s Edition logo, you can certainly expect a feat of features, which is what you will find in this very loaded disc. Included are two commentaries, one with Tony Scott, and one with producers Douglas Wick and Marc Abraham. This also marks the first Universal disc to feature an extended branching option, titled Clandestine OPS, which allows you to access behind the scenes interviews and cast/character bios simultaneously while watching the movie. Also featured is a script-to-storyboard featurette with Tony Scott, deleted scenes and an alternate ending, information on what it takes to become a CIA agent, and a trailer for this movie and the upcoming Universal spy thriller, The Bourne Identity.  

On top of these, DVD ROM enthusiasts will be able to access a wealth of additional material over the web!  Included online are the Spy Game World Premiere, an additional interview with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, an interview with producers Marc Abraham and Douglas Wick, "The Toughest Scene" with director Tony Scott, a look at CIA training, and much more.

Summary:

Spy Game is knockout thriller from an expert director, and an opportunity to see two terrific actors at the top of their own Game.