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Tony Scott
Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack
Writing Credits:
David Arata

Retiring CIA agent Nathan Muir recalls his training of Tom Bishop while working against agency politics to free him from his Chinese captors.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish DTS
French DTS 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 127 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date:5/19/2009

• Audio Commentary with Director Tony Scott
• Audio Commentary with Producers Marc Abraham and Douglas Wick
• Deleted/Alternate Scenes
• “Clandestine Ops” Interactive Feature
• “Script to Storyboard Process” Featurette
• “Requirements for CIA Acceptance” Text


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Spy Game [Blu-Ray] (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 5, 2022)

Two generations of Hollywood hunks united for 2001’s Spy Game. This film brought together Robert Redford and Brad Pitt for the first – and apparently last – time as actors, though Redford directed Pitt in 1992’s A River Runs Through It.

Set in 1991, longtime CIA Agent Nathan Muir (Redford) reaches his final day on the job as he sails into the sunset of retirement. However, complications arise when fellow Agent Tom Bishop (Pitt) winds up captured by the Chinese and charged with espionage.

Because Muir acted as Bishop’s trainer and mentor, this gives him an active investment in the younger agent’s fate. While Muir works to free his protégé, we also see aspects of their earlier relationship in flashbacks.

With a then-massive $115 million budget, two “A”-list stars as leads and hit-making director Tony Scott behind the camera, Game looked like a sure-fire smash. Instead, it earned a relatively low $143 million worldwide, with just $62 million of that in the US.

Heck, in the States, Game didn’t even become 2001’s biggest success with “spy” in the title. Spy Kids made $112 million in the US, and with a budget of only $35 million, it turned a profit while Game lost money.

Of course, the “R”-rated Game aimed for a different audience than the “PG” Kids, but I suspect it wasn’t solely the target crowd that created the difference in box office receipts. Instead, I believe Kids sold tickets because it brought a fun adventure, whereas Game becomes a tedious, confused mess.

At its core, Game offers a pretty straightforward tale of an operative who requires rescue. Logically, the movie would follow Bishop’s capture and then Muir’s attempts to save him – bingo bango, sugar in the gas tank.

However, either the writers thought that wouldn’t be enough, or they simply didn’t want to bother to put the effort into one coherent spy thriller. This means Game becomes an erratic hodgepodge of “mini-adventures”, none of which feel satisfying.

Perhaps those involved felt all these “backstory” scenes would give heart and meaning to the characters, but they don’t. Instead, they just feel like filler.

Game seems as though it wants to deliver a basic “mentor/protégé” journey, but it lacks the confidence it needs. This brings the framing conceit related to Bishop’s circa 1991 imprisonment.

Or maybe the writers came up with a mix of short adventures that they couldn’t develop into one long tale, so they packaged them into this semi-random hodgepodge. I can’t explain the genesis of the production, but I can say that it doesn’t work.

The 1991 segments feel bizarre, partly because no one shows much urgency related to Bishop’s imprisonment. While the operative finds himself on the verge of execution, Muir and the boys devote endless hours to reminiscing about the old days.

Really? How does this make any narrative sense?

It doesn’t, but Game needs to find something to fill its 127 minutes, so we wind up with one tedious flashback adventure after another. These never become even vaguely exciting or intriguing.

Perhaps Scott sensed the tedium of this project and tried to “fix” Game with filmmaking techniques. Scott cranks Game to “11” and makes it an annoyingly dizzying production.

Scott imbues Game with spinning/moving cameras, imposing music and weird audio stings, all meant to convince us that the movie gives us an urgent tale. None of this works, however.

Indeed, the over-amped cinematic techniques simply undercut any potential drama. Scott feels so desperate to make us think Game brings an exciting, dynamic story that his stylistic choices damage the project instead.

Or these decisions would mar Spy Game if it didn’t seem so messy and contrived already. Despite all the talent behind it, this turns into a dull disappointment.

The Disc Grades: Picture C/ Audio A-/ Bonus B

Spy Game appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not a poor transfer, this one showed its age.

For the most part, sharpness felt positive, albeit with some issues. Light edge haloes appeared at times, and some noise reduction reduced fine detail and gave the movie an odd “digital” feel.

Still, the movie usually displayed reasonable to positive delineation. Mild instances of jagged edges and shimmering occurred.

While the flick felt grainy, I suspect most of this came from artifacts, as the image appeared to strip the flick of most real grain. In terms of print flaws, I saw occasional specks but nothing extreme.

Colors often went for a chilly blue feel, though flashbacks opted for a sepia feel. The movie’s hues seemed decent but a little too dense at times.

Blacks became crushed, while shadows tended to appear a little murky. The image boasted enough positives to earn a “C”, but it could use an update.

On the other hand, the movie’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 fared well. Not surprisingly, battle scenes gave the mix its best dimensionality.

At those times, the track really became lively as it used all five channels actively. The sounds of war surrounded me in a realistic and natural manner.

Audio seemed well-integrated among the different speakers, and sounds blended neatly from channel to channel. This turned into an engulfing soundfield.

Audio quality seemed similarly strong. Dialogue came across as natural and accurate with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility.

Music was bright and dynamic and clearly reproduced the film’s score at all times. Effects were also terrific and they often packed a substantial punch.

With solid bass, effects seemed clear and crisp at all times. Ultimately, the mix offered a strong auditory experience.

The disc comes with a mix of extras, and we find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Tony Scott, as he brings a running, screen-specific look at story/characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, visual design and photography, music, editing, and related domains.

The best aspects of the commentary come from his interactions with Robert Redford, as Scott found it semi-intimidating to have an Oscar-winning director in his cast. I also like the info about how the film changed and adapted for the post-9/11 climate.

A veteran of the format, Scott offers a good but not exceptional chat here, one that only occasionally really kicks into higher gear as mentioned above. That said, Scott covers all the appropriate bases, and he does so with reasonable detail.

For the second commentary, we hear from producers Marc Abraham and Douglas Wick. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific discussion of topics similar to those covered by Scott.

This leads to some inevitable repetition of information, but that doesn’t become a significant issue. Even when Abraham and Wick get into domains also found in Scott’s commentary, they approach this material from a different POV, so this ends up as a largely appealing chat.

Called Clandestine Operations, an interactive feature offers a branching option. When an icon appears onscreen, the viewer hits “enter” and gets various components.

Most of these come from short video clips that span between 43 seconds and three minutes, 35 seconds for a total of 23 minutes, 19 seconds of material. The clips cover locations, casting, sets, realism and effects.

Across these, we hear from Scott, Wick, Abraham, actor Robert Redford, military advisor Freddie Joe Farnsworth, aerial coordinator Marc Wolff, demolition supervisor Charles Moran, and special effects supervisor Trevor Wood.

We also get six text screens that provide simple biographies for a few supporting characters. The set provides four extended scenes that run between 47 seconds and seven minutes, three seconds for a total of 14 minutes, 15 seconds.

The bios prove pretty forgettable and irrelevant, especially because the characters involved don’t do much in the final film. The extended scenes vary from negligible to substantial in terms of how they alter the release cut, so they can become interesting.

Five Deleted Scenes fill a total of five minutes, 26 seconds. They tend to offer a little more exposition and not much else, so they don’t seem especially valuable.

We can view these with or without commentary from Scott. He gives us basics about the sequences as well as why they got the boot.

We also get four Alternate Versions of Existing Scenes. These duplicate the sequences found during “Clandestine Operations”, but it’s good to get them outside of that domain.

These can be seen with or without more commentary from Scott. He continues to elaborate on the clips and why they didn’t wind up in the final product.

Script to Storyboard Process goes for two minutes, 51 seconds and gives notes from Scott. We see some storyboard/final film comparisons as Scott discusses his processes. This becomes a short but decent piece.

Finally, a text segment provides an explanation of Requirements for CIA Acceptance. It offers a forgettable addition to the set.

With notables both behind and in front of the camera, Spy Game feels like a sure-fire winner. Instead, it turns into a jumbled dud without any excitement or drama. The Blu-ray comes with excellent audio and a good roster of bonus features but visuals seem dated. Expect disappointment from this clunker.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 4
2 3:
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