Sometime in the near future, someone is going to stumble upon Allied in a Redbox or on a premium cable channel, have no idea what it is about, and end up liking the movie just fine. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard turn in reasonable performances, there is a surprising amount of detail to the plotting, and the ending is reasonable (if a little slap-dash; endings are hard). Unfortunately, this movie is absolutely ruined by its trailer. Of course, explaining why means delving into some pretty serious spoilers myself, which will also ruin the movie, but Allied isn’t so great to begin with, so it is no real crime there. In fact, I can think of at least two spy movies starring Brad Pitt that are better than Allied (Spy Game and Inglourious Basterds; and yes it is).
Add another “L” to the campaign of sadness that is The Year of Movies: 2016 Edition. Once again, a film has been released in an attempt o revive and further a long-dormant franchise, and like seemingly every cheap cash-in of this year, Jason Bourne fails to elicit any emotion beyond longing for the original property which it is based upon. This isn’t to say that there are not stirring sequences or solid performances in the film, but there is not a single aspect of this film that was not accomplished better by a previous Bourne film. Paul Greengrass and company certainly do not need to re-invent the wheel, but they should at least drive the car somewhere new.
Quietly and without fanfare, Polish writer/director Wladyslaw Pasikowski has crafted an historical spy film for the ages. Jack Strong rivals the very best spy films of the decade – from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to Skyfall. The film dramatizes the life and actions of one of the most high-impact spies during the Cold War, the polish colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, who over the course of a decade provided over 35,000 pages of sensitive Soviet information to the Americans. Impressively, Jack Strong isn’t simply a circuitous celebration of tradecraft and cloak-and-dagger, either. It delves further into the emotional and personal costs of the spy life than almost any spy film I have ever seen, detailing the damage that Kuklinski’s actions have on his family, friends, and colleagues. The end product is a three-dimensional spy film that doesn’t resort to action set pieces or large explosions to capture the attention of the audience. Thus, despite being relatively unknown, Jack Strong is an unequivocal example of the perfect Cold War spy film.
Steven Spielberg’s Cold War historical drama Bridge of Spies feels like it may get lost in the 2015 spy film shuffle. It has neither the name recognition of the franchise films released this year (Mission: Impossible and Spectre), nor the comedic leanings or freshness of something like The Kingsman. This would be a shame, as Bridge of Spies proves to be a mature and nuanced investigation of loyalty and integrity. At the same time, it offers a reminder that in fighting demons, we must always make sure not to become one.
How has James Bond become a poor-man’s Ethan Hunt?
Spectre, the twenty-fourth film of the James Bond franchise, meanders through action set pieces but doesn’t really have anywhere to go. Directed by Sam Mendes, who had much more success with his previous foray in to the world of Bond with Skyfall, the film wastes a potentially great villain by providing no motivation and a cookie-cutter surveillance plot which was done better by both Mission Impossible and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Sadly, the latest Bond film offers nothing new to the franchise and feels like spinning the wheels in anticipation of the next reboot.
The films of Guy Ritchie succeed best when they blend comedic elements with a strong circuitous narrative set on the fringes of society. Usually, that fringe is some underground criminal element, but with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Ritchie puts his inimitable aesthetic to work on the period spy thriller. Though the plot can feel fairly derivative at times, the stars ably carry the film forward and offer some surprisingly funny moments amid the tradecraft and action set pieces.