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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. Written by
The coffee cup Bishop drinks from before finding Hadley's empty apartment is nearly identical to the coffee cups seen at CIA in Langley. See more »
The prison guards are speaking Cantonese instead of Mandarin, and the Chinese characters shown are traditional Chinese characters whereas in mainland China people use simplified Chinese characters. See more »
[Muir indicates a fat man sitting at a table reading a menu]
The man reading the menu. Threat?
Only to the hostess.
See more »
In the opening credits, many of the credits are each preceded by a jumble of letters flickering on the screen. This may be a reference to the opening credit sequence of one of Robert Redford's earlier spy movies, Sneakers (1992). See more »
Tony delivers something I would have expected from brother Ridley -- a set of images about images:
--the photographic and editing style is one of successive photographs often shifted/zoomed with the shutter click; some black and whites, many color deprived.
--the hero's cover story is as a photo journalist and his photos are shown the same as the CIA's, Redford's recollections, and the 'narrator's.'
--The agency is primarily about images in real life, images and action and that's self-referentially played up here. Scott uses a style of zooming in and out by jump cuts that he developed on his last film -- also about images and the intelligence community. Lots of cameras and binoculars here.
--the dramatic action is global, involving several hotspots with lots of action. When viewing that action, the cameras are hand-held. When watching the calm, controlling scenes at headquarters, we see them more statically as they are being videotaped, often spying through blinds. (Spy = see.) Often the images have digital tags.
--Some of the field scenes with Redford and Pitt are shot as though from a spy plane (as in that swooping, sweeping shot on a roof) or if interior as seen through a hole.
--Lots of helicopter shots, and lots of helicopters. It seems every combination was employed among the following: ground, interior of heli, interior of second heli, front of heli, heli POV, above heli. This by itself is self-referential when you notice how many of the 'ordinary' shots are from helis.
There is also a clever self-reference in the casting. Pitt was hailed as the 'new Redford' when he appeared in 'Thelma and Louise,' by brother Ridley. Then in 'River Runs' he was directed by Redford, in a Redfordlike role, underscoring the relationship. Here, he also is mentored, but in my opinion outacts Redford at every turn. I believe Scott intended to use Redford's limits as a tired actor to the advantage of this reference. Pitt has been working hard in relatively minor but challenging roles and the results show.
The only real complaints are the clumsy plot mechanics: the last day before retirement -- a clear 24 hour to doom clock -- a wily and complete outwitting of the pencilnecks -- all the CIA analysts and technicians as outwittable dimmies -- a senior character says 'get everything we have on so and so' and 10 seconds later a secretary appears with the files in multiple copies -- a helicopter is shot down: it disappears behind the trees and then we see a fireball. Fortunately we gloss over all that stuff. Couldn't in 'Enemy of the State.'
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