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You'll Love The Company of These Spies

Reviewed by Beth Hannan Rimmels

When is a made-for-cable movie not a made-for-cable movie? When it’s good enough to be a theatrical release and doubles as the pilot for a TV series.

Showtime’s new film, In the Company of Spies, is all three. A much better cat-and-mouse action film than most movies you wait in line and pay $8 for, it was originally written with the intention of becoming a cable series a la The Sopranos or La Femme Nikita.

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Silver (left), Berenger

Spies begins with a deep cover CIA agent in North Korea being kidnapped by the Korean Internal Service (KIS). Jack Marko (Karl Pruner) has discovered some crucial secret, but the KIS isn’t sure how much he knows. Worse, Marko was taken was before he could transmit the information to the CIA.

CIA Director Tom Lenahan (Ron Silver) needs the expertise of former East Asian division chief Kevin Jefferson (Tom Berenger) to recover Marko and the information. Jefferson set up Marko’s infiltration but quit five years ago in disgust over political compromises forced on and within the CIA. Jefferson is reluctant but loyalty forces him to return, albeit on his terms: a free rein to run the operation, pick his team and answer only to Lenahan so internal bureacracy can't endanger the mission..

Berenger, Krige

Dr. Sarah Gold (Alice Krige), a psychologist with whom Jefferson might have had a relationship if their work hadn’t gotten in the way, is Jefferson’s second in command. The rest of the team includes Todd (Arye Gross), a flashy — by CIA standards — computer and communications expert; Paul (David McIlwraith) and Joanne Gertz (Elizabeth Arlen), a bickering married couple who specialize in satellite surveillance and photography; and Dale Beckham (Clancy Brown), an old-time CIA agent whose drinking has relegated him to training new recruits.

The dynamics and interactions of the characters flesh out what could have been a by-the-books spy drama. They bicker, get on each other’s nerves, pat each other on the back and pull each other through marathon work sessions as they struggle to recover not only Marko, but whatever secret he obtained. Berenger, Silver and Krige in particular have great chemistry in their scenes together, but the entire cast is believable and incredibly watchable.

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Tom Berenger

The plot itself is good, with nice twists and turns. It neither spoon feeds information nor creates a puzzle so complicated it can’t be figured out. Director Tim Matheson does a good job of pacing and balancing the political maneuvering with the field work. Spies has some absolutely nail-biting scenes but except for one sequence with the Navy SEALs, the suspense comes from Marko’s interrogation and Dale’s investigation rather than predictable car chases and boring explosions. A gripping espionage drama doesn’t have to be cookie cutter.

Spies takes a decidedly pro-CIA approach, which isn’t surprising since it’s the first film shot with the agency’s cooperation. It doesn’t whitewash the agency’s failures, though it places more blame on the whims of politicians than the agency itself. Spies presents CIA agents as hard-working people with good intentions who sometimes make mistakes, not James Bond imitators.

The end of the film practically screams for it to become a TV series, and you probably will, too. How can you not with characters this engaging and a plot this smart? The only trick is the series should stay on Showtime out of the insanity of network television scheduling. Showtime won’t make any sort of decision, of course, until it sees how In the Company of Spies does, so if you like it, click here to send them a note. If you don’t request it, it won’t come.

In the Company of Spies will air 10:15 p.m. Nov. 4; 3:15 p.m. Nov. 14 and 1 p.m. Nov. 27 on Showtime and at 12:15 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. Nov. 8; 9:30 p.m. Nov. 12; 7:05 p.m. Nov. 16; 1:15 p.m. Nov. 20; 12:30 a.m. Nov. 21; 12:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Nov. 24 on Showtime2.

You can check out Showtime's enhanced content section on In the Company of Spies, which features photos, video clips, background material on the movie, cast and crew, and more.

 

Review 1999 Beth Hannan Rimmels. In The Company of Spies 1999 Showtime. 
Accompanying photographs 1999 Showtime/Ben Mark Holzberg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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