Thursday, July 5, 2012

Film Cemetery 

Case Study #7

Where we look at the more 
obscure movies that bombed

Spy Game

I have always stated that I'm a huge Tony Scott fan...but even 
he doesn't hit it out of the park every time

This movie should not be on Film Cemetery...period. 

But it is. Sigh.

Back in 1965, the Air Force asked General Dynamics to do the impossible - build a fighter-bomber that met all of the future needs of the military. Everything, all rolled into one. 

Give us something that can carry a 40,000 bomb load, yet still fight like a Tomcat. 


And General Dynamics did indeed give the Air Force exactly what they'd asked for....a bloated swing-wing jet called the F-111. Never heard of the F-111? 

That's hardly surprising, because although the plane looked fantastic on paper, it was a complete failure. It simply tried to do too much.

The same is going on with Spy Game.....

There is a lot of good film-making in Spy Game, but there is one thing that is glaringly missing....a plot we can follow.

I wanted to love this movie, hell, I've tried to love it over 15 times. It just doesn't work. 

Sometimes - Mr. Scott, I'm looking at you - when you attempt to make an old-school spy thriller with engaging stars and great camera forget to capture the humanity, muddling it with a huge amount of back-story.. 

But in this case, Scott did do one thing supremely right. More on that in a moment.

Film Cemetery isn't really about box office revenue, or critical acclaim, although Spy Game failed to garner either. But the movie was released two months after 9/11....and a film about terrorism right after those horrific attacks isn't going to do well no matter what. It was too fresh for America.

Remember the F-111 above, and how it was trying to do too much? Spy Game has a good portion set in 1991, at the CIA headquarters. 

Some of it is in 1972 (?) Vietnam. Some of it is West Germany, perhaps covering 1976 to 1980, and some is in Lebanon in 1985. Are you starting to get the picture? 

I didn't even know that the present day of this movie was 1991 until I refreshed my facts on Wiki. I though it was present day 2001.

You handsome man, you

What is really odd, I suppose, is that in it's heart of hearts, Spy Game is a love story. Pitt's character - Tom Bishop, a CIA operative that poses as a photographer - is in love with Liz Hadley (Catherine McCormack) who is a British terrorist on the run from the Chinese.

She's been captured and is being held in a Chinese prison and Pitt tries to rescue her, but fails miserably. That's how the movie starts out and establishes itself. 

Side note: The prison is actually an abandoned facility in London, and they say that it used so many extras that the Chinese restaurants were shut down on the days of shooting.

McCormack is hot!

With me so far? Sounds like a pretty interesting premise, right? Okay, then let's move on. The CIA wants to disavow themselves away from Pitt, and in an attempt to save him, Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) - a mid-level officer, has to explain Pitt's entire back-story to a conference room full of CIA bigwigs. WTF? 

I never understood that, personally. The guy that wrote the screenplay - Michael Frost Beckner - also wrote, surprise, surprise - another film on this list....Cutthroat Island.....which, by the way, Killed. A. Studio.

And it gets worse. You see, McCormack had been kidnapped on Redford's orders because he thought she was bad news for Pitt. Redford explains that he was trying to assassinate a Lebanese terrorist, and he needed Pitt to convince a doctor to poison the bad guy during a routine check-up.

Although this is a major part of the story, and a big part of the special effects budget, this doesn't even make it into the Wiki description of the film. Yeah, the plot so convoluted that the place and reason Pitt and McCormack met is left out.

I tell my fans of Inspired Writing, where I give advice on plot, dialogue and whatnot - to always keep it simple. Sadly, that's the one thing they forgot when writing Spy Game.

There are some bright spots, however.

The acting is second to none. Robert Redford and Brad Pitt click fantastically. The camera work is stylish and the sets, as well as the special effects are old school and satisfying.

Yes, there is a lot to love and admire in Spy Game. Speaking of which, the relationship between Pitt and McCormack is grossly under-used. 

I don't even know if they had good chemistry together on the screen, because you hardly see them together...and the deepness of their love is never really established.

Hamidou Ben Messaoud

Earlier I spoke of the one thing Tony Scott did right, and that was casting Amidou, pictured above. 

This little known Moroccan-born French actor absolutely stole his scenes with Pitt. 

Americans won't recognize him, but Amidou has been the bad guy in French films for 50 years. In Spy Game, he plays the doctor Pitt must convince to poison the terrorist leader. 

Below is a snippet of their conversation:

Dr. Ahmed: Tell me. Is it hard? 
Tom Bishop: Is what hard? 
Dr. Ahmed: Is it hard? To take a life? 
Tom Bishop: [Long pause after a sigh] Yes. 

And I'll leave you with a bit of really good dialogue between Pitt and Redford:

Tom Bishop: All right, so what else? What else do I need to know? 
Nathan Muir: Put away some money so you can die someplace warm and don't ever touch it. Not for anyone, ever. 
Tom Bishop: Okay, is that it? 
Nathan Muir: Don't *ever* risk your life for an asset. If it comes down to you or them... send flowers. 

What is your favorite 
spy movie?

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