Spy Game (2001)


Introduction

Spy Game is a 2001 American spy film directed by Tony Scott and starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.

Outline

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 People’s 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 jeopardising the trade agreement. Bishop was also operating on his own when he was captured, unauthorised by the Agency.

The CIA’s 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 Bishop’s 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 Bishop’s 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 Bishop’s 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 Hadley’s 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 recognises 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.

Cast

  • Robert Redford as Nathan D. Muir.
  • Brad Pitt as Tom Bishop.
  • Catherine McCormack as Elizabeth Hadley.
  • Stephen Dillane as Charles Harker.
  • Larry Bryggman as Troy Folger.
  • Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Gladys Jennip.
  • Ken Leung as Li.
  • David Hemmings as Harry Duncan.
  • Michael Paul Chan as Vincent Vy Ngo.
  • Garrick Hagon as Cy Wilson, the CIA Director.
  • Todd Boyce as Robert Aiken.
  • Matthew Marsh as Dr. William Byars.
  • Andrew Grainger as Andrew Unger.
  • Shane Rimmer as the Estate Agent.
  • Ho Yi as the Prison Warden.
  • Benedict Wong as Tran.
  • Adrian Pang as Jiang.
  • Omid Djalili as Doumet.
  • Dale Dye as Commander Wiley, US Navy SEAL.
  • Charlotte Rampling as Anne Cathcart.
  • Matthew Walker as Digger Gibson.
  • James Aubrey as Mitch Alford.
  • Colin Stinton as Henry Pollard.
  • Amidou as Dr. Ahmed.
  • Andrea Osvárt as a cousin of Muir in Berlin.

Trivia

  • The film grossed $62 million in the United States and $143 million worldwide and received mostly positive reviews from film critics.
  • The film was filmed in Morocco between 05 November 2000 to 19 March 2001.
  • Pitt’s casting meant he had to pass on playing the title role in The Bourne Identity.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Tony Scott.
  • Producer(s): Douglas Wick and Marc Abraham.
  • Writer(s): Michael Frost Beckner and David Arata.
  • Music: Harry Gregson-Williams.
  • Cinematography: Dan Mindel.
  • Editor(s): Christian Wagner.
  • Production: Beacon Pictures.
  • Distributor(s): Universal Pictures and Beacon Pictures.
  • Release Date: 21 November 2001.
  • Running Time: 126 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

 

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