Ignoring its somewhat dubious politics, Tony Scott's espionage thriller remains a taut and engrossing -- if glossily shallow -- take on international intrigue, shoved along at a steady clip by brisk editing and an insistent score. This is the kind of material a director like Alan J. Pakula would have thrived on in the '70s; Michael Frost Beckner and David Arata's script is rife with double- and triple-crosses, sex, assassinations, elaborate flashbacks, daring rescues, and beat-the-clock political maneuvering. In the hands of Pakula or a similarly accomplished director, Spy Game would have been truly epic instead of endlessly watchable, but, as it is, the movie offers more than enough coherent drama for audiences to chew over. Though Scott's excessive stylistic flourishes are mostly distracting, he's to be commended for delineating a head-spinning amount of information in a relatively compact, 127-minute running time. Granted, some characters fall by the wayside -- the luminous Charlotte Rampling has a nothing part -- and some plot details remain unclear, but through it all, Robert Redford anchors the film with a relaxed cool he hasn't exhibited in years. It's a part tailor-made for him, and his mere presence lends the film a gravity it wouldn't have had otherwise. Scott seems mostly uninterested in his characters' emotional transformations, but the veteran leading man more than makes up for it in his repartee with a similarly well-cast Brad Pitt. So while it's tantalizing to think of the movie Spy Game could have been, the one that's onscreen proves to be more than enough.
by Michael Hastings review