Reviewed April 8th, 2002 by Dan Jones
Upon going to see Spy Game in theaters, I will admit that I had very high hopes for the film. Normally this is what ends up making a film a disappointment for me, when I have overly high expectations; yet, in this case, I can say that the film met and in some ways exceeded by expectations. Spy Game is an intelligent espionage-ish drama/some action movie.
To start things out, I have to refer to the huge promotional campaign this film is getting on television (probably due to its negative financial return in the box office) about the release of the DVD tomorrow (April 9th, 2002). The choice of the “click, click, click boom” song with a ton of action scenes ripping by you is a ludicrous way to advertise this film, seriously. If someone purchases this movie, only on the pretense that this is a heart pounding action flick then that person is most likely going to walk away a disappointed consumer. Spy Game IS NOT an action film; perhaps the marketing experts should have watched the film before advertising. But hey, whatever works. Rant ended.
Spy Game revolves mainly around two characters, Nathan Muir (played by Robert Redford), a seasoned veteran of the CIA on his last day (doesn’t Hollywood just love the “last day” story?). Next, we have Tom Bishop (played by Brad Pitt), as an up and coming agent in the field who ends up held captive in a Chinese prison and will be sent to death for being a spy, unless the U.S. gets him out of there. After Muir finds out this information, he is quickly drawn to help the agent that he recruited in the first place via Vietnam, while it seems the rest of the CIA has no intention to save Bishop.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Spy Game is how the story is told through a series of flashbacks. We get most of the character development and rough history of Muir and Bishop told through flashback by Muir himself. This provides for an easy avenue for the film to go in multiple directions without the audience being able to guide themselves... it makes it very interesting.
I would rather not delve more into the film, as I do not want to give away any of the films unexpected twists and turns. Spy Game is a very solid film with exceptional acting from Redford and Pitt. The dialogue and script is intelligent and the story is well thought out without ever becoming overly predictable.
For this DVD release, Universal has definitely put in some extra effort, especially in the form of the supplemental material provided. Let’s take a closer look.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Spy Game has been given a very strong transfer to the DVD format (there is also a full-screen release...pass it up). The picture is detailed and fairly clean source wise, along with little to no edge enhancement problems and no digital compression problems to speak of. Skin tones are right on, color contrast is strong and blacks are deep and rich. There are some stylistic elements used in some of the flash backs that might seem out of place, but rest assured it was the director’s intention. Overall, this is a very solid transfer from Universal, very close to reference in my humble opinion.
Audio wise, Spy Game has been given aggressive 5.1 tracks in Dolby Digital (English and French) and DTS (just English). These tracks are quite enveloping with great movement and detail. The bass impact is very strong on these tracks during the scenes that need it. While a lot of the movie is dialogue based in environments that are not too exciting, there are the flashbacks that really make use of the 5.1 channels. Between the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks, I found the DTS track to have slightly better deeper and more controlled bass, as well as a bit more of a detailed soundstage in general. Also included are English and Spanish subtitles.
Starting out the extras given to us in Spy Game are two audio commentaries, one by director Tony Scott, and the other by producers Marc Abraham and Douglas Wick. Tony Scott’s commentary is quite informative, giving us a lot of information on where scenes in the film were shot, along with the casting process and general filming techniques. Abraham and Wick focus on some of the same material as Scott, but add a considerable amount of plot detailing that really should not be of much use to the viewer (the film isn’t that complicated that we need the story spoon-fed guys). Nevertheless, both commentaries have their positives, but I would give the Tony Scott one a listen and perhaps do a random scene by scene with the producer track.
Also included is a feature similar to the white rabbit on the Matrix, entitled Clandestine Ops, which allows the viewer to watch the movie completely, but throughout an image will appear on the screen in which the user can select to see behind the scenes footage on that particular scene in the film. I was never big on this type of feature, but to each their own.
Next, we have a deleted scenes/alternate scenes section. Here we have a total of five deleted scenes and four alternate scenes all provided with and without director commentary. It seems that 9/11 did have an effect on this film as well, causing one of these scenes in particular to hit the cutting room floor.
Next up is an interesting storyboard featurette that allows us to see the process Tony Scott goes through in “drawing” his movies. While being a bit short (less than three minutes) this is a pretty interesting clip. Next, we get a short featurette on the requirements of becoming a CIA agent. Do you have what it takes?
This is also the first Universal DVD release to feature their new Total Axess feature, which allows for an increasing amount of extras to be put forth online for people who own the DVD to access at their liberty. Currently we have a number of interviews, including one from Pitt and Redford, more behind the scenes information with Tony Scott, and more talking with the producers of their film and their choice for director. This will undoubtedly grow after the DVD streets, so once you get the DVD check the site. This is an interesting way to pack more extras onto a film and frankly, I do not mind it.
Finally, we have the normal production notes, cast and crew filmographies, a Universal promo section, and the theatrical trailer.
Overall, Spy Game is a solid drama-thriller with great performances from Pitt and Redford along with an intelligent storyline and plot development process. This is not the action movie Universal seems to be pushing online, but that does not mean it’s not an exciting or tense film, because it is. Universal has done a great job with the DVD, with an excellent video transfer, great audio and a wealth of extras. Highly Recommended.
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