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Spy Game (2001) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 19 May 2009
ImageThere aren't many people that given credit where credit is due when it comes to "Spy Game."  However, I am not one of them.  I find it an above average film.  A little faster paced and this could be a truly top-notch film.  The movie fell about $30 million short of its production budget at the box office.  But hopefully this Blu-ray release will help it gain some ground.

"Spy Game" is directed by Tony Scott, brother of acclaimed director Ridley Scott.  The direction is good, with typical military-war style cinematography.  While nowhere near as bouncing as "The Bourne Identity," the film gets a bit too jerky for me at times.

Robert Redford stars as Nathan Muir, a CIA agent that is getting ready to retire.  On his last day on the job, now a desk job, he gets an urgent cable from Hong Kong about the capture of his protégé, Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt).  Muir portrays the genius of CIA headquarters, always ten steps ahead of the executives in the office.

Muir is called upon to deliver all his files on Tom Bishop to the head office.  Suspecting something is fishy he lies to buy himself more time.  Preparing for the worst, he gets the documents on Tom Bishop ready for burning and heads to the conference room where all the executives are gathered to discuss the Bishop situation. 

Muir plays the executives like pawns.  Muir informs the committee that he can't find the files and that it is mostly up in his head anyway.  He is instructed to join them in the conference room.  He uses his field tactics to delay the committee, telling them pointless stories, derailing them from the matter at hand.  As it turns out, Bishop went rogue to rescue a woman from a Chinese prison.  He is caught in the act of espionage.

It doesn't take Muir long to figure out that the committee is trying to find a reason to let the Chinese kill Bishop.  Over the years of Bishop's training, Muir developed a close relationship with Bishop.  Also, Muir feels responsible for Bishop's capture since he was going after the woman that Muir had sent to a Chinese prison.  Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack) was an asset that Bishop developed a personal relationship with in Beirut in the mid 1980s.

While Muir is misleading the committee, he is also developing an operation to save Bishop.  The CIA and White House are preoccupied with keeping trade negotiations open with China.  They cannot afford to rescue Bishop.  The US has 24 hours to decide what they are going to do before Bishop is to be executed.

Through some rather ingenious methods, Muir is able to setup Operation Dinner Out to rescue Bishop and Hadley from the prison.  It isn't until after the operation is carried out that the CIA even get wind of what is happening. "Spy Game" has a few lulls in it that keep it from being truly excellent.  Also, it is not one of those movies that you can watch over and over again.  There is rarely anything new to pick up with each watch.  The acting is strong by all the major players, especially Redford, Pitt and McCormack.

This film comes to Blu-ray with a VC-1 encode and a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  The video transfer is a bit of hodgepodge.  It is decent overall, but there are lots of minor problems that add up.  The contrast is a bit over-boosted.  The colors remain strong when they are meant to be natural.  Since much the film is playback of Vietnam, Germany, and Beirut experiences, the scenes are not supposed to be vibrant.  Germany has a very dark and bleak look.  Here the black levels are good and shadow delineation is better than I would have expected.  In Beirut everything is gray, very monotone, but there are instances of intense color.  Vietnam has a very yellow tint to it.  I found there to be a lot of color and chroma bleed in the Vietnam sequences.  The edges are blurred in most sequences.  Details are good and bad.  At times they can be excellent, but they suffer during any fast motion sequences.  Film grain is barely noticeable, but the source print has a lot of dust, dirt and blemishes that become distracting, especially in the rooftop sequence after the operation in Germany.

The audio is the star of the show for this Blu-ray.  Presented in DTS-HD 5.1, the audio is near flawless.  The track is immersive throughout the film.  All the operation sequences have a lot of motion in the surround channels.  Even indoor office sequences fill out the ambience nicely using the surround channels.  My only real issue with the track is that there is not individual identification of gunfire and explosions.  All the effects are spread throughout the channels.  More localization would have been nice.  The LFE channel is alive and well.  The Vietnam sequences and Beirut sequences show off the LFE nicely.  The dialogue is fairly strong.  Sometimes a few words might get lost among the music.  This is a substantial upgrade from the Dolby Digital audio track on the standard DVD.

The Blu-ray contains the same bonus materials that were present on the HD DVD release and standard DVD release of the film.  First, there are two audio commentaries.  The first commentary is with director Tony Scott.  The second track is with producers Marc Abraham and Douglas Wick.  Scott's audio track is much more engaging and informative.  Like many dual audio commentaries, they probably would have worked better as one complete audio commentary.  Next there is a section of deleted and alternate scenes.  This includes an alternate ending.  "Script-to-Storyboard Process" is a brief explanation of the process.  "Requirements For CIA Acceptance" contains some information on what to specialize in if considering a career with the CIA.  "Clandestine Ops" is an interactive feature using Universal's U-Control function that presents footage during the course of the film.  Lastly, the disc is enabled with BD-Live functionality.

"Spy Game" is a terrific film that keeps you on your toes the first time around.  The video quality is somewhat of a mixed bag, but the audio quality is outstanding.  I would recommend this Blu-ray disc for those looking to add a solid film to your collection.

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