Top names cannot overcome this kludge of a movie, which loses one star for kludge and one star for not remotely honoring what the original OSS and the CIA clandestine service really do. In fact, as a former spy who spent three touirs overseas including one chasing terrorists, this movie, while artsy and compelling in its mash-up of 50 years of mis-adventure, is very disappointing. They would have been better off sticking to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which I enjoyed very much as a parody.
Until the 1980’s, the chief characteristics of the Directorate of Operations of which I was a part, were alcoholism, adultery, divorce, and suicide. I count 18 suicides in my professional career, beginning with the instructor at the Farm that blew his brains out with a shot-gun, and more recently the Staff Director of the House Permanent Select Committee of Intelligence, and a much admired SES (flag) officer who tried to drum the “Langley Strangler” out of the agency. Now that’s a movie I would be glad to help make. Today we simply have too many puppies and dilitantes.
There is one good aspect: the whole concept of not trusting anyone. There is another good aspect: enemy opposites can be friends. Indeed, I have found over the years that I like and trust my KGB and GRU counterparts more than I trust the drones in our own FBI (Agents IC Smith and Crowley excepted).
A sideline highlight was the depiction of the Yale fraternity Skull and Bones, to which both George Bush Junior and John Kerry belong. The overtones of homosexuality, men mud-wrestling naked, men in drag, is consistent with the public information undertones about some of its members.
The bad aspect is that this movie tries to represent 50 years of history including all the apects of James Angleton, Kim Philby, and so on, but it is a fantasy, a poor parody. You would be much better off reading my lists of intelligence and counterintelligence books. Recruiting people to be traitors, stealing diplomatic pouches, installing audio devices, managing covert action operations are all more interesting.
The entire theme of trying to interpret a video to identify the fan, the sounds, the voices, etc is over-hyped garbage, even with the revelation that the witness knows the video is of himself not so long ago. CIA throws money in the air, and whoever reaches for it is recruited as an agent. Let me be very specific: CIA is a global laughingstock, and does nothing for the Nation that is worth its cost. It consists of too many young white males, and no amount of diversity hiring is going to change the basic fact that working out of official installations, and unilaterally (or worse, relying on foreign liaison headquarters for second-hand lies) is going to turn CIA into a mature clandestine and analytic service.
The coldness of the business, and the distance between father and son, between husband and wife, is dated. That is how it was up to the 1970’s. After that, wives were a part of the team and not only fully briefed, but used operationally on occasikon. Children generally are briefed when they reach their low teens.
Bottom line: this is a melange that melanges a bit too much. Great stars, interesting script, for a real look at the old CIA, see Allen Dulles, “The Craft of Intelligence”, and Miles Copeland, “Without Cloak or Dagger”. For the lies and politicization, see George Allen, “None So Blind” or Hiam’s “Who the Hell are we Fighting.” For CIA at the top of its game, see “JAWBREAKER” and “First In.”
This is one instance where books are much better than any DVD. See my lists for many other recommendations, and also my list of “Serious DVDs.” This is not a serious DVD, not even close.
The Craft of Intelligence: America’s Legendary Spy Master on the Fundamentals of Intelligence Gathering for a Free World
Without Cloak or Dagger
Wilderness of Mirrors: Intrigue, Deception, and the Secrets that Destroyed Two of the Cold War’s Most Important Agents
None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam
Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars
Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA’s Key Field Commander
First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan
On Intelligence: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World
The New Craft of Intelligence: Personal, Public, & Political–Citizen’s Action Handbook for Fighting Terrorism, Genocide, Disease, Toxic Bombs, & Corruption
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