A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Consider now two spy thrillers: “Spy Game,” with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, which opened over Thanksgiving, and “The Tailor Of Panama,” with Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush, which opened in March 2001. Both, curiously, star Catherine McCormack as the girl for whom a spy risks all, or seems to, or means to.
“Spy Game,” directed by Tony Scott, is all style and surface, a slick artifact made of quick cutting and the kind of rough glamour you find in fashion ads; rat-a-tat datelines identify the times and places. “The Tailor Of Panama,” directed by John Boorman and based on the John Le Carre novel, moves more deliberately to set up its characters and explore their personalities. “Spy Game” substitutes mannerisms for human nature; there's no time, in a film where individual shots rarely last more than 20 seconds, for deeper attention. The cinematography in “The Tailor of Panama” goes not for surface flash but for tone and mood, for the feel of its locations.
Oddly, although both movies have about the same running times, the slower pace of “The Tailor of Panama” makes it seem shorter than the fast pace of “Spy Game.” Scott's restless camera, with flashbacks and whooshes, resists our attention; it moves so fast that things don't seem to matter so much, and because it discourages contemplation, we don't develop a stake in the material. We see it less as a story than as an exercise.
That's not so say the film is without interest. It stars Robert Redford as a veteran CIA spymaster, on his last day at work, and Brad Pitt as the young idealist he recruited after Vietnam. Now Pitt is in a Chinese prison, captured in the act of helping Catherine McCormack escape, and it's Redford who was responsible for her being there. The framework is 24 hours during which Redford must scheme, lie and deceive in order to save Pitt, who the Agency plans to sacrifice; nothing must upset top-level trade talks between the U.S. and China.