2001-11-29 / Arts & Entertainment

"Spy Game" Is ‘Non-Stop, High-Octane Thriller"

"Spy Game" Is ‘Non-Stop, High-Octane Thriller"

Robert Redford as CIA operative Nathan Muir and Brad Pitt as his protege Tom Bishop in "Spy Game."      						        Keith Hamshere (c)Universal PicturesRobert Redford as CIA operative Nathan Muir and Brad Pitt as his protege Tom Bishop in "Spy Game." Keith Hamshere (c)Universal Pictures

By Sheila Norman-Culp

Associated Press

From its first moments — a heart-pounding rescue in a gritty Chinese prison — to its last, director Tony Scott’s "Spy Game" is a high-octane thriller featuring dream matchup of leading men, Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.

The nonstop action sprints through key hot spots of the last half-century — Vietnam, Berlin, Lebanon, China — as Redford, a CIA agent, postpones his retirement to rescue a former protege.

This is the role that Pitt was meant to play, the role that Redford himself honed to such a fine art in "Three Days of the Condor."

Forget all that sensitive man stuff.

There are dirty jobs to be done, assassinations or covert operations that may save lives but require cold calculations by men who think on their feet, dodge the minefields and don’t let any emotion get in the way of a successful mission.

"We killed this man!" Pitt’s Tom Bishop shouts after a failed Berlin Wall crossing. "We used him and we killed him!"

Redford’s Nathan Muir points out that the operation failed because their contact was also spying for the Russians _ but it was not a total loss because Bishop himself followed his orders and got out alive.

"This is a whole other game. It’s serious, it’s dangerous, and it’s not one you want to lose," Muir said. "You had better take a long hard look at your profession. If you go off the reservation, I will not come after you."

Wrong. Of course he will.

Muir, a longtime field operative on his last day at the CIA, is more than ready to leave, disgusted after seeing his agency being taken over by smarmy political types like his boss, Troy Folger (Larry Bryggman).

But since Bishop managed to get captured by the Chinese, charged with spying and has 24 hours before he’s executed, Muir is dragged into a high-level CIA conference on what to do.

He quickly figures out that the agency is not going to waste any energy rescuing Bishop, who was on his own freelance mission to rescue a former lover, aid worker Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack).

Hence, Muir’s agenda is set: Foil his bosses, keep his clearance for one more day and get Bishop out of China.

Bryggman offers a delightful foil, the frustrated boss who knows Redford is up to something. An old theater standby _ in-one-door-and-out-the-other choreography _ is executed with precision for maximum laughs, helped along by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who turns in an engaging performance as Redford’s loyal secretary.

The musical score is a nostalgic romp that matches each battlefield to the hard rock of its era, racheting up the tension as Scott once again executes his famed aerial effects.

While Redford shines for his quick wit, Pitt exudes a mesmerizing screen presence, whether in a grimy T-shirt in an urban battlefield or a snappy uniform at a U.S. ambassador’s party.

The chemistry between the two men makes the fictional retirement in the movie almost feel real, as if Redford is handing over his leading-man baton with a wry, go-to-it-pal shrug.

"Spy Game" is rated R for language, some violence and brief sexuality. Running time: 115 minutes.

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