Monday, April 04, 2022

Agent Game

Covert ops is a tough business, because there is so much expendability built in—and everyone is always expendable to someone above them. At least, that is the cynical view of intelligence services presented in this film. Fair or not, Kavinsky’s team was recruited to take a fall, but he maybe picks up on the mission’s bad vibes before it is too late in Grant S. Johnson’s Agent Game, which releases this Friday in theaters and on VOD.

Olsen is a high-ranking “deep state” CIA administrator, who is having a bad day, judging from the prologue, showing him firing off shots on the streets of DC. It will take multiple, confusing flashbacks to explain how he reached this point. Somehow, it involves Kavinsky’s team of misfits, whom Olsen personally recruited to snatch and grab an unidentified target.

Then, there are the flashbacks to a black site in an undisclosed Eastern European country, where veteran officers Bill and Harris are interrogating Omar, who was formerly an American-backed revolutionary leader, but the agency seems to think he has gone over to the dark jihadist side. The thing is, the two old hands have been doing this long enough to know Omar’s denials are the truth. However, Visser, Olsen’s loyal enforcer wants them to just bury him and sign-off on the agency’s suspicions.

It would be nice to see a new film that actually celebrated the sacrifices of American intelligence personnel, instead of demonizing, but this is not that film. Nevertheless, there is a lot of surprisingly tense intrigue, especially that focused on Bill and Harris in the black site. Eventually, screenwriter Tyler W. Konney and Mike Langer tie everything together, but viewers almost need to take notes to keep track of the various timelines.

Be that as it may, Jason Isaacs and Dermot Mulroney are terrific as the two dubious interrogators. They are credibly smart and world-weary. If there is anyone viewers will identify with in this film, it would be them. It might be frustrating type-casting for him, but Barkhad Abdi (from
Captain Phillips) is also quite good as the unfortunate Omar. Scheming against them, Annie Ilonzeh makes a strong, forceful antagonist as Visser. However, Mel Gibson is more than a bit over the top spouting good-old-boy-isms as the villainous Olsen.

Amongst Kavinsky’s misfits, the most intriguing character is Katie Cassidy’s icy, cerebral Miller, whereas the rest of the dirty five are your usual problems-with-authority washouts. Still, they manage to create a few sparks together when the team figures out their extraction charter is not headed where they were told.

Rather than concluding the narrative, Konney & Langer end with the film in a way that openly anticipates a sequel. Honestly, that is really cheating for a film like this (unless you are genuinely hungry for an
Agent Game film universe). Sometimes it is unexpectedly clever, but it is just as often too clever for its own good. Agent Game is more interesting than a lot of day-and-date VOD-theatrical releases, but it is too messy to recommend when it opens Friday (4/8) in New York, at the Cinema Village.