ⓘ Spy Game


ⓘ Spy Game

Spy Game is a 2001 American spy film directed by Tony Scott and starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. The film grossed million in the United States and 3 million worldwide and received mostly positive reviews from film critics.


1. Plot

In 1991, the US and China are on the verge of a major trade agreement, with the President due to visit China to seal the deal. The CIA learns that its asset Tom Bishop has been arrested at a Peoples Liberation Army prison in Suzhou and will be executed in 24 hours, unless the US government claims him and bargains for his release. But if the government claims Bishop as an asset, they risk jeopardizing the trade agreement. Bishop was also operating on his own when he was captured, unauthorized by the Agency.

The CIAs special operations executives summon Nathan Muir, the senior officer who recruited and mentored Bishop during a ten-year partnership in various zones of conflict, who is on his last day before retirement. They ask if he knew of Bishops mission in China, hoping he will give them the pretext they need to justify letting Bishop be executed. The CIA executives are unaware that Muir had been tipped off about Bishops capture prior to arriving at CIA headquarters by a fellow CIA veteran in Hong Kong.

Muir leaks the story to CNN through an MI6 contact in Hong Kong, believing that public pressure would force the CIA to rescue Bishop. They are stalled briefly before a phone call to the FCC from CIA Deputy Director Charles Harker results in CNN retracting the story as a hoax.

Muir describes how he met Bishop in 1975, when Bishop was a Marine Scout Sniper during the Vietnam War. In 1976, Muir recruited Bishop as a CIA asset in Berlin, where Bishop was tasked with procuring assets in East Germany. Then he discusses Bishops spy work in Beirut in 1985, during the War of the Camps, which was their last mission together. We see events unfold in detail via flashback scenes.

Bishop was conflicted when Muir insisted from the beginning that a civilian "asset" that endangered a mission should be sacrificed to preserve the "greater good", and Muir made it clear he would do the same to Bishop if Bishop ever "went off the reservation". In Lebanon, Bishop met relief worker Elisabeth Hadley, and while using her to connect with the asset he needed for their mission, they became romantically involved. Muir mistrusted Hadley and tried to warn off Bishop by revealing she was exiled from the UK. On DVD commentary there is a fuller backstory in which it is revealed Muir had previously interacted with Hadley. Hadley confessed to Bishop that she was involved in the bombing of a building owned by the Chinese government in Britain which she had expected to be empty, but people died. She asked him to tell the truth, and eventually Bishop revealed his true name to her as well. After the mission implodes and Bishop cuts professional ties with Muir, Muir, fearing that Hadley could be a threat to the Agency and potentially Bishop, tipped off the Chinese to Hadleys location, in return for freeing an arrested US diplomat. Chinese agents kidnapped Hadley and a Dear John letter was planted for Bishop from Hadley when he got back to his apartment.

In the present, Muir recognizes that Bishop went to China for Hadley and that they are running out of time. Muir forges a directive signed by the CIA director to begin "Operation Dinner Out", a rescue mission spearheaded by a SEAL team that Bishop had developed as a "Plan B" for his own attempt at rescuing Hadley. Using $282.000 of his life savings and a misappropriated file on Chinese coastline satellite imagery, Muir enlists the help of his Hong Kong colleague in bribing a Chinese energy official to cut power to the prison for 30 minutes, during which time the SEAL rescue team will retrieve Bishop and Hadley.

Bishop is rescued along with Hadley, and discovers that Muir orchestrated everything when he hears the pilot refer to Operation Dinner Out, which was originally the code name Bishop used to get a birthday gift for Muir while they were in Lebanon. When the CIA officials are belatedly informed of the rescue, Muir has already left the building and is seen driving safely off into the countryside.


2. Production

The film was filmed in Morocco between November 5, 2000 to March 19, 2001 and it was going to directed by Mike Van Diem. Pitts casting meant he had to pass on playing the title role in The Bourne Identity. The film had its worldwide premiere at the Mann National Theatre on November 19, 2001.


3. Reception

Box office

Spy Game opened at number three at the box office in its first weekend in the United States. The film grossed $62.362.785 in the United States and $143.049.560 worldwide.

Critical response

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie an approval rating of 66% based on 133 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. The websites critical consensus reads: "The outcome of the kinetic Spy Game is never in doubt, but it is fun watching Robert Redford and Brad Pitt work." Metacritic gave the film a score of 63 out of 100 based upon reviews by 29 critics. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a grade B+.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two and a half stars out of four and said, "It is not a bad movie, mind you; its clever and shows great control of craft, but it doesnt care, and so its hard for us to care about."

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