Spy Game

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Not to be confused with Spy Games.
This article is about the film. For the unrelated TV series of the same title, see Spy Game (TV series).
Spy Game
Spy Game poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Tony Scott
Produced by Douglas Wick
Marc Abraham
Screenplay by Michael Frost Beckner
David Arata
Story by Michael Frost Beckner
Starring Robert Redford
Brad Pitt
Catherine McCormack
Stephen Dillane
Larry Bryggman
Music by Harry Gregson-Williams
Cinematography Dan Mindel
Edited by Christian Wagner
Beacon Pictures
Douglas Wick Productions
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • November 21, 2001 (2001-11-21)
Running time
126 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $115 million[1]
Box office $143 million

Spy Game is a 2001 American spy film directed by Tony Scott and starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. The film grossed $62 million in the United States and $143 million worldwide and received mostly positive reviews from film critics.


In 1991, the governments of the U.S. and China are on the verge of a major trade agreement, with the President of the United States due to visit China to seal the deal. The CIA learns that its asset Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) has been captured trying to free a Briton, Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack), from a People's Liberation Army prison in Su Chou near Shanghai, China. Bishop is being questioned under torture and will be executed in 24 hours unless the U.S. government claims him. If the CIA claims Bishop as an agent, they risk jeopardizing the trade agreement. Exacerbating Bishop's situation is the fact that he was operating without permission from the Agency.

Attempting to deal quickly with the situation, CIA executives call in Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), an aging mid-level case officer on his last day before retirement and the man who recruited Bishop. Although they tell Muir they simply need him to act as a "stop gap" to fill in some holes in their background files, the officials are hoping he will give them the pretext they need to justify letting Bishop die. The CIA executives are unaware that Muir had been tipped off about Bishop's capture prior to arriving at the CIA's headquarters, by fellow CIA veteran Harry Duncan (David Hemmings), for whom Bishop had been working an operation in Hong Kong before going rogue. Muir first attempts to save Bishop by leaking the story to CNN through a contact in Hong Kong, believing that public pressure would force the CIA to rescue Bishop. The tactic only stalls them, however, and is stymied when a phone call to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission from CIA Deputy Director Charles Harker (Stephen Dillane) results in CNN retracting the story.

During the debriefing, Muir describes how he recruited Bishop for an operation when Bishop was a U.S. Marine scout sniper during the Vietnam War. Muir also discusses their 1976 tour of duty in Berlin, Germany, where Bishop was tasked with procuring East German assets, with Muir commanding, as well as Bishop's spy work in Beirut, Lebanon in 1985 during the War of the Camps, the latter being the last time the two saw each other. During the mission in Lebanon, Bishop met Hadley, and the two began developing romantic feelings for each other. However, it is revealed that Hadley was involved in a bombing of the Chinese embassy in Britain, causing her to flee the country. Fearing that Bishop's feelings for Hadley might compromise his cover and the mission, Muir tips off the Chinese to Hadley's location in return for freeing an arrested U.S. diplomat. Chinese agents kidnap Hadley, and Bishop cuts all ties to Muir when he discovers his involvement. After learning Hadley was the target of Bishop's rescue attempt, Muir finally realizes that he has greatly underestimated Bishop's feelings for her.

Running out of time, Muir secretly creates a forged urgent operational directive from the CIA director to commence Operation Dinner Out, a rescue mission to be spearheaded by Commander Wiley's (Dale Dye) U.S. Navy SEAL team, for which Bishop had laid the groundwork as a "Plan B" for his own rescue attempt. Using US$282,000 of his life savings and a misappropriated file on Chinese coastline satellite imagery, Muir enlists Duncan's help in bribing a Chinese energy official to cut power to the prison for 30 minutes, during which time the SEAL rescue team retrieves Bishop and Hadley.

Bishop, who is rescued at the end of the film 15 minutes before his scheduled execution, realizes Muir was behind his rescue when he recognizes the name of the plan to rescue him, Operation Dinner Out: a reference to a birthday gift that Bishop gave 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 off into the countryside.



Filming locations included:

  • HSBC Hong Kong headquarters building, presented as the American embassy. (There is actually a U.S. consulate general in Hong Kong, but no embassy.) The embassy's interior was filmed at the Lloyd's building in London.
  • Budapest, Hungary served as Cold War Berlin in the film. The film was shot there to save money, and also because Berlin has changed a lot since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The helicopter landing in the film's climax was filmed at an airfield near Budapest.
  • Casablanca, Morocco became 1980s Beirut in the film. The crew started off in Haifa, Israel, but had to shift to Morocco because of the Al-Aqsa Intifada which broke out in late 2000. The Vietnam War segment was also filmed in Morocco.
  • Oxford, England: the former Oxford Prison, which closed in 1996, was used as the Chinese prison set in Su Chou (Suzhou). (It has since been converted into a luxury hotel.) Shots of the ambulance approaching the prison were also filmed in Queen's Lane in Oxford.
  • The GlaxoSmithKline research centre in Stevenage, England was used for exterior and some interior scenes at the C.I.A. headquarters. (Aerial shots of the real headquarters were also included.)
  • The C.I.A. lobby location was in the Senate House of the University of London. Close-ups of Robert Redford as Muir driving from his home to the C.I.A. headquarters were filmed in Regent's Park, standing in for Washington, D.C.
  • A second unit filmed footage in Washington, D.C. and Virginia for the scenes of Muir driving to and from the C.I.A. headquarters.
  • The boat used in the filming was an original Russian-made hydrofoil and was provided by Stephen Canning of Iron Wolf Imports at the direction of Jonathan Frost. The boat was purchased in Lithuania and shipped to Morocco by truck, and then was unfortunately destroyed along with other props in Morocco.


Spy Game opened at number three at the box office in its first weekend in the United States.[2] The film grossed $62,362,785 in the United States and $143,049,560 worldwide.[1]

The film received generally positive reviews from critics. Aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a score of 66% based on 132 reviews.[3] Metacritic gave the film a metascore of 63 out of 100 based upon reviews by 29 critics.[4] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two and a half stars out of four and said, "It is not a bad movie, mind you; it's clever and shows great control of craft, but it doesn't care, and so it's hard for us to care about."[5]

Home media[edit]

Spy Game was released on VHS and DVD on April 9, 2002. It was released on HD DVD on August 22, 2006. It was released on Blu-ray three different times: a standard Blu-ray release on May 22, 2009, a double feature Blu-ray set with State of Play on March 22, 2011 and a Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo pack on June 28, 2011. The VHS and HD DVD formats have been discontinued, but the DVD and Blu-ray releases have remained available.


  1. ^ a b "Spy Game (2001)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 20, 2009. 
  2. ^ "Weekend Box Office: November 23-25, 2001". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  3. ^ "Spy Game". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  4. ^ "Spy Game Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More". Metacritic. 21 November 2001. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  5. ^ Roger Ebert (27 November 2001). "Spy Game". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 

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