Spy Game: Collector's Edition on DVD

Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Larry Bryggman. Directed by Tony Scott. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French), DTS 5.1. 127 minutes. 2001. Universal 21552. R. $26.98.

CIA agent Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) has been captured in an abortive mission, thrown into a Chinese prison, and sentenced to death. The execution is scheduled to take place in 24 hours. Politics inside and outside the agency dictate that he be thrown to the wolves. His former boss, Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), is the only one interested in saving his life, but he can't do it openly. The job is complicated by the fact that Muir is serving his last day before retiring.

So begins a tensely plotted tale of action and intrigue. And if it isn't a realistic depiction of how things really are (unlikely, unless the screenwriters served time in the CIA), it feels like it. One hopes that in the real world those on the inside are working on the same page; here they often aren't even reading the same book.

The main story, however, takes up only about half the film's running time. Things are fleshed out with fast-moving flashbacks depicting Muir and Bishop's past experiences in the agency, experiences that relate in significant ways to the "present day" crisis. While you'll probably find yourself wondering if the makeup artists aged Redford a craggy 20 years for the present-day scenes or made him look 20 (well, maybe 10) years younger for the flashbacks, you won't spend much time on the puzzle; the plot is much too absorbing for you to be distracted for long.

This collector's edition DVD is loaded with extras. It's also available in widescreen and pan&scan versions, so be careful to buy the one you want. (This review applies only to the widescreen.) While you won't be briefed on any classified information about world affairs or the CIA, as the jacket blurbs seem to imply (if you were, they'd have to shoot you), you'll get a lot of background on the film itself in the Clandestine Ops feature. Periodically throughout the film (often at the beginning of a chapter), a small folder appears in the corner of the screen. Click on it and the movie stops while you're given inside information. This sort of feature began with New Line's Infinifilm format and is becoming popular, but it can be a little tedious to get through all the pop-ups.

I find commentary soundtracks more interesting, and here you can listen to the director, Tony Scott, and the producers, Marc Abraham and Douglas Wick, describe their experiences during the production. Other features include requirements for CIA acceptance (a single still frame of not particularly informative text for those aspiring to a career in covert intelligence), alternate and deleted scenes with commentary, a script-to-storyboard "Making of" featurette, and DVD-ROM extras.

Whether you select the Dolby Digital or the DTS soundtrack, you won't be disappointed. The sound is clean and dynamic, the surrounds effective, the bass strong, and the dialogue clear and natural—I had no complaints. I didn't see the film in its theatrical release, but the DVD's picture quality is probably a good representation of that experience. The cinematography is highly stylized: Many flashbacks have much of the color washed out of them (the Vietnam sequence, in particular, is very brown), and even the modern-day scenes have exaggerated contrast. It isn't pretty, but I have to assume it's what the filmmakers wanted. There's some edge enhancement, but it isn't over the top.

Overall, this is a fine transfer of a first-rate film with enough extras to keep you occupied for hours.