Spy Game (2001)
Another Netflix gem, this time starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. The movie is a flashback memory of the recruitment and running of “Boy Scout” from the Vietnam War (1975), to East Germany, and then finally to Beirut (1985). This story takes place in 1991, during a delicate time of negotiations of a trade agreement between the United States and China. (Honestly, has this struggle for trade supremacy been 30 years?)
Here’s the plot from Wikipedia:
In 1991, the US and China are on the verge of a major trade agreement, with the President due to visit China to seal the deal. The CIA learns that its asset Tom Bishop has been arrested at a People’s Liberation Army prison in Suzhou and will be executed in 24 hours, unless the US government claims him and bargains for his release. Bishop’s actions, unsanctioned by the CIA, risk jeopardizing the agreement.
A group of CIA executives summon Nathan Muir, Bishop’s mentor, who is on his last day before retirement. While purportedly interviewing Muir to learn his history with Bishop, the executives seek a pretext for not intervening on Bishop’s imprisonment. Unknown to them, Muir was tipped off about Bishop’s capture by a fellow CIA veteran in Hong Kong.
Muir leaks the story to CNN through an MI6 contact in Hong Kong, believing that public pressure would force American intervention. They are stalled briefly before a phone call to the FCC from CIA Deputy Director Charles Harker results in CNN retracting the story as a hoax.
Muir met Bishop in 1975, when Bishop was a Marine Scout Sniper during the Vietnam War. In 1976, Muir recruited Bishop as a CIA asset in Berlin, where Bishop was tasked with procuring assets in East Germany. Then he discusses Bishop’s spy work in Beirut in 1985, during the War of the Camps, which was their last mission together. We see events unfold in detail via flashback scenes.
Bishop is troubled by Muir’s conviction that civilian “assets” who endangered a mission should be sacrificed to preserve the “greater good.” After Bishop attempts to countermand Muir during a mission to save the life of an asset, Muir makes clear that he will not tolerate dissent, and would not rescue Bishop if he was captured going “off the reservation”.
During a mission in Lebanon, Bishop, posing as a photojournalist, meets relief worker Elizabeth Hadley. While using her to connect with an asset for the mission, they became romantically involved. Muir distrusts Hadley, and reveals to Bishop that she was exiled from the UK. Hadley later confesses to Bishop that she was involved in the bombing of a Chinese building in Britain, which was supposed to be empty but contained Chinese nationals. Bishop reveals to Hadley his true identity.
Muir elects again to sacrifice a civilian asset for the sake of their mission, and Bishop cuts professional ties with Muir. Muir, fearing that Hadley could be a threat to the Agency and potentially Bishop, makes a deal with the Chinese, exchanging Hadley in return for an arrested US diplomat. Chinese agents kidnap Hadley, and a Dear John letter is forged and left for Bishop.
In the present, Muir recognizes that Bishop went to China for Hadley. In a series of misdirections, he forges a directive signed by the CIA director to begin “Operation Dinner Out”, a rescue mission spearheaded by a SEAL team that Bishop had developed as a “Plan B” for his own attempt at rescuing Hadley. Using $282,000 of his life savings and a misappropriated file on Chinese coastline satellite imagery, Muir enlists the help of his Hong Kong colleague in bribing a Chinese energy official to cut power to the prison for 30 minutes, during which time the SEAL rescue team will retrieve Bishop and Hadley.
Harker is suspicious that Muir is working against the CIA, but when he confronts Muir before the gathered executives, Muir “confesses” to unprofessionally using company resources to gather information about his intended retirement home, which he has distorted the evidence to support.
Bishop is rescued along with Hadley, and infers that Muir was responsible when he hears the pilot refer to Operation Dinner Out, which was also the code name for an operation Bishop used to get a birthday gift for Muir while they were in Lebanon. When the CIA officials are belatedly informed of the rescue, Muir has already left the building and is seen driving safely off into the countryside.
Muir’s actions are justifiable, at least in his own eyes. He set Bishop on this ‘rogue’ action by capturing Hadley and trading her to the Chinese. He shouldn’t have done that. Now on his last day at work, he has 24 hours to get them both out of the Suzhou prison. He cuts corners, steals files, nicks badges, and forges the director’s signature to do it.
All in a day’s work for the CIA.