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Now and Then – Spy Game and Body of Lies


     Now: Body of Lies (2008)
             Then: Spy Game (2001)
                            Trust No One

               It’s Not How You Play the Game…

In this week’s Body of Lies, director Ridley Scott captures a complex relationship between CIA field man Leonardo DiCaprio and his boss, Russell Crowe. The plot, pitch and poster have already elicited comparisons to Tony Scott’s 2001 Spy Game , which saw agent Brad Pitt mentored and monitored by senior agent Robert Redford. So, sure, similar pairings of old-school and new-school movies stars in the world of high espionage … but the question is, which movie delivers?

Directors With Sibling Rivalry
At first glance, putting the Scott brothers head-to-head isn’t a fair contest: Ridley’s movies include landmarks like Alien , Blade Runner and Thelma & Louise ; Tony’s more disposable entertainment includes Top Gun , Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State . Yet sometimes, a spy thriller might benefit from a lighter touch: Body of Lies fumbles and flails a little when it reaches for geopolitical significance whereas Spy Game is content to be a globetrotting good time. Is pure entertainment enough?

Office Dynamics 
Both movies have younger actors starring as field agents under desk-bound bosses. The big difference is that Body of Lies revolves around a fairly adversarial relationship between Crowe and DiCaprio, while the dynamic between Redford and Pitt in Spy Game verges on the paternal. Spy Game lets us know that Redford’s willing to sacrifice everything to help Pitt. Body of Lies makes it abundantly clear that Crowe is willing to sacrifice DiCaprio if it means a win.

Spirit of the Times 
The biggest difference between Body and Lies and Spy Game is, bluntly, the influence of the outside world. Body of Lies is all about the post-9/11 world — looking at asymmetrical warfare, jihad, America’s complex relationships with her allies in the region and more. Spy Game was released right after 9/11, but written and produced before; it’s a relic of an earlier time, evoking Cold War conflicts and past conflicts. It’s not like Tony Scott had any control over world events… but it sure didn’t help Spy Game‘s reception.

The Verdict
Body of Lies is a curious mix of political intrigue and slam-bang action, yet the real-world grit mixed with Ridley Scott’s gloss makes for a much more satisfying movie than Spy Game. Tony Scott may have a flair for camera trickery — Spy Game has a memorably melodramatic 360-degree helicopter shot that spins around so fiercely, it becomes a parody of itself — but no matter how fast the camera moves, Spy Game is just spinning its wheels.

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