Film: Spy Game

Spy Game is a 2001 American spy film directed by Tony Scott and starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.

CIA operative Nathan Muir (Redford) is on the brink of retirement when he finds out that his protege Tom Bishop (Pitt) has been arrested in China for espionage. No stranger to the machinations of the CIA's top echelon, Muir hones all his skills and irreverent manner in order to find a way to free Bishop. As he embarks on his mission to free Bishop, Muir recalls how he recruited and trained the young rookie, at that time a sergeant in Vietnam, their turbulent times together as operatives and the woman who threatened their friendship.

Spy Game contains examples of:

  • Arc Words: "Dinner Out"
  • The Atoner: The whole reason Muir decides to orchestrate Bishop and Hadley's rescue. All the years of being a Manipulative Bastard finally caught up to him and decides to make it up to his former protege. Bishop as well, since he decides to rescue Hadley after getting involved with her — which ended in his capture as well.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Miur uses this several times in order to manipulate people into giving otherwise-restricted information.
  • Berlin Wall
  • Blow Up The Shaggy Dog: All that crazy driving and effort by Bishop to get the doctor to his appointment on time so that he can poison the target, only to see the entire apartment building get blown up by truck bomb.
  • California Doubling: Budapest for West Germany, Morocco for Beirut, a prison in Oxford for the chinese prison, and a building in England for the CIA HQs. And an in-universe example with satellite imagery of the Bahamas for satellite scans of the island where the Chinese prison is located.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: Bishop is taking Muir out for breakfast at a Mexican war-torn Beirut.
    Muir (while the two are ducking behind rubble): This better be the best damn breakfast I've ever had.
    Bishop: Oh, it's great, you'll love it.
  • Cold War
  • Cold Sniper: Bishop, before becoming a CIA Agent.
  • Confess to a Lesser Crime: Muir spends most of the film using CIA resources to plan an unauthorized operation to rescue Bishop. When the CIA discovers he's been accessing satellite data, Muir admits to misusing agency resources... to research retirement properties. While a huge offense in and of itself, it's not considered as big a deal because he's retiring, the satellites were passing over the Bahamas anyway (so he didn't restage a satellite), and quite frankly, they're just glad to be rid of him and Bishop.
  • Defector from Decadence: Both Bishop and Muir.
  • Determinator: Bishop on several occasions (continuing on his mission to snipe the NVA official despite his spotter insisting there's no shot, initial resistence to Muir over aborting his attempted smuggling of someone into West Berlin, racing to get the doctor to his appointment in Beirut because he hated the backup plan of using local militias and explosives)
  • Distracted by the Sexy: How Muir (through his contact) gets the Chinese official to come down on his price to where Miur can personally pay him - the official is trying to watch Pamela Anderson and the contact gets into his view.
  • Double Take: One of the Wardens in the Chinese prison, when he finds a prisoner chewing bubblegum.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Ann Cathcart is beaten to death two months after defecting to the Russians. It is heavily implied Bishop or Muir were involved, but they never really figure out who did it.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Muir. Arguably. He was never really a villain, but did several questionable things while working for the CIA. He makes up for it while orchestrating Bishop's rescue.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Muir uses his entire life savings to bribe a Chinese official as part of his plan to rescue Bishop.
  • Knight Templar: Muir.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Muir, and Bishop after his training, but nowhere as bastard as Muir.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Muir, initially.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: The reason why Muir decides to save Bishop. Even if in the past, he was willing to play with other people's lives and discard them when they were of no use anymore.
  • Not a Game: Inverted. Bishop says this in response to one of Muir's controversial calls. Telling Bishop to abandon an informant to certain death, and Muir retorts that a game is exactly what it is, and a very serious one at that.
  • Oh, Crap: For the CIA, the penultimate line of the movie when Muir's interrogators have their previously-assauged suspicions of Muir's duplicity confirmed too late via phone call after Muir had left the building.
    "There's been an incident in China."
  • Retirony: The events of the film are dumped on Muir literally the day before his retirement.
  • Rock Beats Laser / Mundane Solution: Muir claims that although technology is always evolving, the best intelligence is better obtained through mundane mediums and simple plain hard work. He proves this by using the technological bureaucracy of the CIA against itself.
  • Running Gag: The many wives of Muir. Is actually a plot point - Miur's interrogators realize too late he isn't currently married, and all his previous "wives" were actually agents he recruited.
  • Smug Snake: Harker.
  • Spy Fiction: Of the Stale Beer kind.
    Bishop: I thought spies drank martinis.
    Muir: Scotch, and never less than 12 years old.
  • Training Montage
  • Unreliable Narrator: Since all of the flashbacks are told by Muir, one cannot help but wonder how much of them is true, and how much is changed/added/omitted to manipulate the other men in the room.
  • Was It Really Worth It?: Implied and lampshaded by Bishop in the debriefing scene at the airport after using their backup plan to assassinate their target in Beirut (and getting the doctor, whom they had spent so much time and effort to convince to betray his patient, dead in the process).
    Bishop: We got a fucked-up barometer for success, don't we?
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Muir is a somewhat rare anti-heroic example, justifying his actions as being necessary to protect democracy. It's left ambiguous whether he actually is justified or not.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Bishop calls Muir out several times on how casual he is at manipulating the lives of others, not even batting an eye if those manipulated lose their lives — All for the greater good of the US.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Muir manages to stall the CIA, bribe Chinese officers and set up a successful rescue mission using the US Navy, using only a phone, an electric typewriter, a fax machine and other office supplies.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Muir sacrifices a low-level informant to lure out an American double-agent. Of course, Muir also claims the informant per se was also a double-agent for the Russians, so it was ok to get rid of him.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Happens to Muir. He leaks the fact that Bishop is in a Chinese prison on the eve of US-China trade talks to CNN to try to force them to negotiate for his release, but as he's about to leave Langley for the last time CNN issues a retraction by stating Bishop had been dead for ten years - Muir's higher-ups presumably leaned on them in order to allow Bishop to die in prison without public backlash.