Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Rogue Agent, True Crime Rather Than Espionage

Robert Freegard is a lot like the slimy “stolen valor” imposters, who pass themselves off as veterans, even though they never served in uniform—but this British con man was especially predatory. Freegard never had any connection to MI5, but he certainly sounded convincing. The master manipulator finally picks the wrong woman to swindle in Declan Lawn & Adam Patterson’s Rogue Agent, which opens Friday in New York.

A luxury car sales man was not exactly the sort of man a solicitor like Alice Archer was looking for, but Freegard (using the name Hansen) was charming and not easily deterred. Archer fell for him despite her early reluctance and the occasional red flags that kept popping up. When she finally confronts him with his mysterious lack of a paper trail, Freegard pretends to come clean, claiming to be an undercover MI5 agent.

Ironically, this fiction provides cover for a lot of events that would otherwise raise suspicions. Regardless, Archer lets him into her life and finances, getting burned badly. Yet, she understands she got off easy compared to some of his other victims, some of whom he continues to brainwash and control.

James Norton’s portrayal of Freegard defines the meaning of the word sociopathic more vivid cinematic terms, more than any film of recent memory. As Phil, Archer’s investigator explains, Freegard is the sort nasty cuss, who is just rotten to the core and won’t ever change (it is a great scene, in which Julian Barratt makes the most of a small role). Indeed, the case of Freegard is quite disturbing, especially since he is now apparently at liberty (due to events transpiring after the film).

Gemma Arterton also brings a lot to the film, elevating Archer from a cliché in search of closure and empowerment to a reasonably grounded human being. As a result, the dance between her and Norton’s Freegard is almost always credible and often pretty grabby drama. Archer never acts like a complete idiot, so it is a heck of a lot easier to sympathize with her when things go bad.

It is worth noting Freegard was able to successfully gaslight his early victims, partly because the threat of violence from the IRA was such a clear and present danger in the 1980s. Exploiting it makes him even scummier. Recommended as a compelling true crime-based thriller.
Rogue Agent opens this Friday (8/12) at the IFC Center.