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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Action > Thriller > Political > Spy Game (HD-DVD)

Spy Game (HD-DVD)


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: B     Film: B



One of the best things about the Spy genre is that it could question military and institutional power without going overboard because the main characters had to carry out the operations.  Either they had their acts together and could deal intelligently with threats within and without, but get on with it (The Avengers, The James Bond Films) or question more deeply the institution while things moved forward (The Ipcress File, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold), but as the 1980s set in, the genre lost its edge as the reactionary Reagan period made a joke of such films.  Note that the silliness of the Roger Moore films had no negative effect on this aspect of the genre.


After the Cold War, the genre had to find itself and after a surprisingly high number of bad Cold War films were rendered obsolete by the fall of The Soviet Union, the search was on for the next threats.  A singular one is convenient, and now that the post-9/11 era sort of gives us one, isn’t it ironic it is hardly in any of these films?


The post-Cold War era eventually saw the Spy genre rise again, with the Bonds taking care of unfinished business in Goldeneye (1995) and the Harrison Ford/Jack Ryan Phillip Noyce thriller Clear & Present Danger (1994) is a reaction to the escapades of Reagan/Bush (starting with The Iran-Contra Affair, also covered in the last Cold War Bond, 1989’s Licence To Kill).  The first Brian De Palma Mission: Impossible (1995) to its credit questioned the operations of espionage and being a spy.  The other enemy quickly became China for a spot.  Bond works with an agent in détente in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), then turns on him via North Korea in the disastrous Die Another Day (2001) and in Tony Scott’s Spy Game, Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) has been captured, sentenced to die and in effect abandoned by the C.I.A. in a film that rightly questions the institution for at least some of the film.  After the false information that let 9/11 happen and led to the Iraq mis-invasion, it is an aspect that holds up well.


However, Tom has hope in his boss and top C.I.A. spymaster Nathan D. Muir (Robert Redford) who is being questioned about everything on his last day while secretly maneuvering to do what he can to help get him free.  The Michael Frost Beckner/David Arata screenplay is smart, thought out, has its action moments and even some wit.  With 24 hours to save Bishop, Muir will have to act fast, cash in favors and outwit bureaucrats who the film rightly suggests are going to hurt the agency via arrogance, disregard for others, more of a push to the Right that ever, appeasing politicians more interested in covering up wrongs to keep people happy and the kind of “Peter Principle” that gets people into high positions that they do not belong in.  How right they were!


We also get flashbacks to see how Muir and Bishop know each other, but the film was criticized for either not criticizing the C.I.A. enough or causing trouble with China by criticizing them when it might be better (read politically correct) not to say anything.  That we are now dealing with Islamo-Fascists and borrowing tons of money from China to do so makes this aspect of the film more awkward that ever.  However, that is not to say this kind of thing would not or has not happened between China and the U.S., but then politics truly makes strange bedfellows.  Overall, Spy Game holds up in ways even Scott could not have expected and is certainly stronger than Pitt’s much touted Mr. & Mrs. Smith (reviewed elsewhere on this site) which is just a silly film with pointless fights and explosions.  The result is a film worth revisiting for interesting reasons, but that it is also one of Scott’s better films.  Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Spy genre veteran Shame Rimmer also star.


Then 2.35 X 1 digital 1080p High Definition image is better than the previous standard DVD, which was not bad for that format.  Between digital work, monochroming of many shots and a shading-down of most of the outdoor shots (as if they were trying to avoid overexposure from the sun, even though that is not actually the case); this is yet another slick-looking Tony Scott production.  Fortunately, this has a good script and cinematographer Dan Mindel (who previously shot Scott’s underrated Enemy Of The State and J.J. Abrams solid Mission: Impossible III) handles this film well and though some of the shots are in a tired style, others are not as bad as the film moves along.  Too bad the final images were not more naturalistic, because this would be of more demonstration quality.


The original standard DVD has regular Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, but sadly, this HD-DVD only has Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 and no DTS!  That is a shame, because those DTS tracks sounded good and the single Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 option just seems to miss some details I know I heard before both on the DTS DVD and in the theater.  Harry Gregson-Williams Score is not bad, but snippy sound effects with an electronic mixing motif is used very often throughout to a fault.  The mix holds up well enough, though I again think the lack of DTS is a problem.


Extras are the same as on the regular DVD except a new interactive Clandestine Ops feature exclusive to this format that allows you to access extras as you watch the film.  The repeated extras include the theatrical trailer, alternate/deleted scenes & alternate ending with optional Scott commentary, a piece on if you could qualify as a CIA operative, producers audio commentary, Scott audio commentary and a script-to-storyboard piece.  Spy Game is a decent thriller worth revisiting and one of Scott’s best films to date.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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