Movie Review : Spy Game (2001)
Josie and I were longing on the couch last Sunday, browsing Netflix and wondering what to do with our time. I don't remember which one suggested we watch turn of the century thriller Spy Game, starring Brad Pitt and a dashing Robert Redford, but it made me realize something : Netflix made disposable movies cool again. Who the fuck watches Spy Game in 2017 except people with time on their hands and no financial incentive? Both of us watched the movie before and it wasn't important to either of us. We watched Spy Game on that slow afternoon and I'm glad we did, because it's a movie that aged strangely well.
Spy Game is a textbook case of a post-9/11 movie. There is this courageous field operative (Brad Pitt) who gets caught trying to bust someone out of prison by Chinese authorities, triggering a crisis situation in Washington where decision-takers congregate in a well-lit environment in order to decide whether or not they should endanger commercial negotiations with China to save him. They have twenty-four hours to take a decision, otherwise Bishop (Pitt's character) will be executed. Spy Game is basically Robert Redford trying to sell him as a hero to desk-dwellers by going over his career around a conference table. It is not a subtle movie.
The triangle of institutional dysfunction Hollywood creatives loved to blame 9/11 for is present in this movie : there is the aforementioned courageous field operative who knows what's up, the arrogant, pencil-pushing decision taker who thinks of decision in regards to his own career and, most important, faceless threats. Lots and lots of faceless threats only courageous field operatives can identify and neutralize : the Vietnamese, the two-faced Laotians, the Lebanese, the Chinese, etc. The great majority of American post 9/11 movies that addressed global politics is built like this. Not sure why that is, but I suppose placing the blame on a category or people who may or may not exist within your power structures is a coping mechanism of some sort.
Spy Game is somewhat rigid, cliché and predictable, but it's one of these rare movies that gets away with it? It took me a few day to recognize why that is, but I believe it all boils down to honesty. It wears its dismissive racism on its sleeve * and bad guys almost wear name tags. I believe they all have the same suit color. Not having to concentrate in order to follow a story makes it insanely watchable. Everything happens faster and at a more regular pace when you give clear roles to your paper thin characters. It's like listening to Taylor Swift's Shake it Off, you know? It's admittedly quasi-meaningless feel-good fodder, but it flows so well it makes the experience pleasant almost every time.
Eminent film critic Wesley Morris was discussing the death of the disposable movie on the Bill Simmons podcast, the other day. He claimed that nobody made a movie just to be enjoyed anymore. That they were either independent labors of love or life-or-death corporate investments. I don't think he was wrong, but I think he was overlooking Netflix, who's been releasing great disposable movies such as Gerald's Game and Wheelman as of late and giving a second chance to great throwaway stuff like Spy Game. Video stores are dead and buried, but they've never felt so alive. Spy Game isn't good, but it feels great to watch because it's something you can do with the earnestness you otherwise wouldn't be able to afford in 2017.
* Every Lebanese guy in this movie has either a mustache or is slightly overweight. Or both. Except the one good guy who in his forties and is in shape. It would be infuriating if it wasn't so proudly clueless.