Tag Archives: spy

Atomic Blonde

2 Aug
Charlize Theron is a literal knockout in this fast-paced spy thriller

Action and intrigue abound in this hyper-stylized spy thriller that takes the former quite seriously, boasting some of the best fight choreography on screen in recent years and a car chase worthy of Baby Driver. It’s also violent as hell and makes no apologies as it punches its way through end-of-the-Cold War Berlin — on the eve of the Wall coming down — where a crucial “list” of British intel assets is up for grabs with the KGB, MI6, and other interested middlemen locked in a bloody game of chess to procure it.

The driving fear at British HQ is that if the list falls into Russian hands, it could extend the Cold War by decades, and while that might have factored mightily in Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s 2012 graphic novel that the film’s based on, The Coldest City, it’s nothing more than a McGuffin here and a catalyst for Charlize Theron’s MI6 operative, Lorraine Broughton, to drop from one gonzo battle royale to the next — even a same-sex hookup in a night club bathroom ends at the barrel of a gun.

The film begins inauspiciously enough as a British agent with the list on his person is stalked through the streets of Berlin and taken out smash-bang style. We then catch up with Lorraine 10 days later in London rising naked out of a tub of ice and covered in bruises. The connection between the two events and the framework for the film becomes a jigsaw puzzle of slow reveals fed to us in flashback snippets as Lorraine’s debriefed by her MI6 higher up (Toby Jones, who seems made for the part) and a curmudgeonly CIA handler (John Goodman). Part of the fun here is drinking in Lorraine’s sultry resistance to their inquiry, which bears a certain familiarity to Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell — another can-do blonde under the thumb of authority — in Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct. Continue reading

Snowden

18 Sep

‘Snowden’: Political Oliver Stone returns with whistle-blower’s uncloaking of spies

Oliver Stone’s become something of a softie, wrapping “World Trade Center” (2006), his 9/11 tale of heroism, in red, white and blue sentimentality, and making “W” (2008) a strange, off-the-mark lob with the surreal puffiness of “Being There” without the biting social undertones. His most recent effort, “Savages” (2012) showed signs of the lean, mean Stone who tapped out “U Turn” and “Natural Born Killers,” but it buckled under to contrivance and a weak storyline. So for the Stoned faithful, there’s good news: “Snowden” marks something of a comeback, a return to the realm of political and historical dramatization that powered “JFK” (1991) and “Nixon” (1995), in which controversial subjects provide a foundation for the filmmaker’s strong political leanings to seep in. It’s also a bit schmaltzy at turns, but so was Clint Eastwood’s “Sully,” which was a rock-solid piece of filmmaking. (If there’s one thing I learned this summer, it’s to let the old cutting-edge guys engage their inner sentimentality; they’ve earned it, and they inject it into films without torpedoing them.)

091516i-snowdenIt’s been only a few years since the disclosures by former intelligence worker Edward Snowden and subsequent firestorm ripped opened a debate on privacy and security. During it all, documentarian Laura Poitras captured the real-life Snowden holed up in a Hong Kong hotel as he readied exposure of the CIA and NSA for spying on U.S. citizens without cause, hacking and mining private Facebook posts – even accessing computer cameras to look in on citizens of interest, should they care. Her film, “Citizenfour,” went on to win an Academy Award. Poitras makes her way into Stone’s “Snowden” as a character, played by the ever-graceful Melissa Leo, sitting in a room shooting Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and “Guardian” journalist Glenn Greenwald (Spock player Zachary Quinto). Stone wisely doesn’t retrace much of Poitras’ steps, but makes the story about Snowden the man, his roots in the military, his nerdy proclivities, his cut-above skill set and capabilities and his on-again, off-again relationship with girlfriend Lindsay Mills (a vivacious Shailene Woodley) – for the two, it’s love at first IP trace. Continue reading

Jason Bourne

1 Aug

Bourne’s back, but he’s not the same enigmatic killing machine addled by amnesia that we met almost 15 years ago in “The Bourne Identity.” Nope, now the brainwashed CIA operative knows mostly who he is. Gone too is that foggy edge of not knowing who’s good or who’s bad as covert contacts and handlers pop out of the shadows. Back then, being in Bourne’s reprogrammed brain trying to reboot itself was a thrill even without the parkour acrobatics and resourceful use of spare objects as random tools of dispatch.

072916i Jason BourneBasically in the new “Jason Bourne” we’re a long way from the Robert Ludlum material that was so organically and intricately concerned with spy games and double dealings at the highest levels, with Jason Bourne caught up as the harried fly in the ointment. In the five installments – four starring Matt Damon and now three of those helmed by chaos choreography maestro Paul Greengrass (“Captain Phillips” and “United 93”) – the impetus has moved from an internal struggle driven by outside forces to dubious machinations in those external structures (the CIA and its splintered sub-organizations) looking for any excuse to put Bourne in someone’s crosshairs. In this case it’s those of CIA director Robert Dewey (a craggy Tommy Lee Jones, inheriting the role of heavy from Albert Finney) who doesn’t want Bourne (and his long-running inside collaborative, Nicky Parsons, played again by Julia Stiles) to pull a WikiLeaks dump of the Treadstone file (listing all the behaviorally engineered Bourne-like assassins). Plus he’s got his hooks into social media mogul Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), an amalgam of Zuckerberg and the Google guys, and wants to leverage the company’s Deep Dream network platform (think Facebook) as a tool to acquire info on anyone, anywhere, anytime. Continue reading

Bridge of Spies

16 Oct

James Donovan (Tom Hanks) must go to great lengths to rescue U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers from Soviet Russia

Courtesy of Dreamworks Pictures

James Donovan (Tom Hanks) must go to great lengths to rescue U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers from Soviet Russia

When people think about the body of work Steven Spielberg has put out over his illustriously long and celebrated career, most gravitate towards the fantastical fantasies imbued with childlike wonderment (ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind) or the satiating swashbuckling adventures (Raiders of the Lost Ark andJurassic Park). Before all that however, Spielberg minted the blockbuster with Jaws and later, with stark, visceral effect, crafted the preeminent cinematic portrait of the Holocaust (Schindler’s List), a film which still resonates as an exposed nerve. Recently, the solemn lessons of history, more so than adolescent curiosity or high adventure, have become the inspiration for Spielberg’s creative vision.

Spielberg’s last history lesson, Lincoln, was a plumbing of a stout character standing tall and resolute in the face of grave opposition and the tenuous society hanging underneath. The director’s latest,Bridge of Spies, follows the same blueprint, but unlike Abraham Lincoln, few have ever heard of James Donovan, an insurance attorney from Brooklyn, N.Y. More relevant from the history-book perspective perhaps is Francis Gary Powers, the U2 pilot shot down over Soviet airspace and taken prisoner in 1960. Continue reading

The November Man

28 Aug

‘November Man’: Plenty of plots muddle, but post-007 Brosnan still the master spy

whitespace

Old assassins may die hard, but in this plot-bouncing thriller starring Pierce Brosnan they’re also pretty hard to kill. Brosnan, still looking 007 fit in his early sixties, plays Peter Devereaux, a retired CIA agent called back into the game to help bring in a Russian double agent. The double agent has the goods on a Russian general who executed innocents and likely staged an act of Chechen terrorism to further his agenda, thus positioning himself to ascend to the apex of Russian political royalty.

082714i Meek The November ManThat premise might sound silly, and it’s hard not to think of Putin and the Russia of the moment, though there’s never any mention of the notorious president (the film’s based on Bill Granger’s 1986 book “There Are No Spies,” which clung to Cold War fumes). That aside, as a straight-up spy thriller, “The November Man” does offer fierce and feverishly paced rewards. The rub is that Devereaux happens to have loved the double agent in question (with whom he has a 12-year-old daughter – and a cafe on Lake Geneva – that none of the folks running the machine know of) and that causes his handlers some concern, so they assign Devereaux’s former protégé, a young can-do field operative by the name of Mason (a hunky yet generic Luke Bracey) the task of cleaning up the stink Devereaux is stirring up in Belgrade.  Continue reading

A Most Wanted Man

25 Jul
Philip Seymour Hoffman commands attention in A Most Wanted Mman, one of his last performances

Philip Seymour Hoffman commands attention in A Most Wanted Mman, one of his last performances

Sadly, 2014 has become the year of goodbye performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman. Earlier this year the talented actor who tragically left us far too early appeared in John Slattery’s directorial debut God’s Pocket, and now the release of A Most Wanted Manadds to Hoffman’s posthumous big-screen farewell. (He’ll still appear in the final two films of The Hunger Games series.)

It’s somewhat fitting too, as Hoffman’s role of Günther Bachmann, the head of a spare German intelligence unit charged in the wake of 9/11 to suss out radical Islamic terror cells, requires range, nuance, and an accent — which by many accords, you could see a lesser actor botching to a campy awful degree. The film, based on spymaster John Le Carré’s 21st novel, takes place in Hamburg, where Mohammed Atta set up the 9/11 attacks allegedly because intelligence was weak or nonexistence. Bachmann and his ragtag team take to their task very seriously and are dogged in their pursuit of new assets. Like most characters in Le Carré novels, Bachmann harbors a troubled past (an oversight in Beruit gets some unfortunates killed) and has little time for anything but work, except good scotch of which he consumes plenty. Continue reading