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Spy Game


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#1 Tim Partridge

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 03:40 PM

I finally got around to watching this Tony Scott film on DVD. It's a really strong, classical narrative Hollywood movie.

Visually and in terms of tone, aside from a few editing speedramps, I found Spy Games to be less like Top Gun and more like a classical Sidney Pollack/Alan Pakula type movie. A lot of the film seemed to be shot on mid focal length lenses (as opposed to exclusive telephotos and extreme wide angles) and the lighting was very overcast, European and will notable fill light throughout. I did really like the anamorphic cinematography, as it was classically functional without being flashy (except in the tinted Vietnam scenes). Scott notes in his commentary that he was initially intimidated by the thought of directing Robert Redford, an acclaimed director in his own right, who was apparently very involved and interested with the way Scott shot Spy Game. I wonder if Redford had an influence on the more classical cinematic coverage and more representative focal length lenses that Scott employed throughout the bulk of the film. All of the CIA scenes look alot more like Quiz Show than say Days of Thunder.

The other big thing to note in Spy Game's visual scheme is that the production design (by the late Norris Spencer, whom Ridley Scott often worked with) seems to tell the story more than the lighting and camerawork. For an internationally set spy thriller, filmed largely in London and Europe, you would never doubt the location doubling for a second. It really does look like a rich, cinematic production designer's movie, and not a flashy promo, which in my opinion kind of gives something cinematically deeper to the signature Tony Scott style. Curiously, on the DVD commentary, Scott notes that Norris Spencer left the production ten days before shooting began, something the director describes as "unforgivable". This was during the move from Isreal to Morrocco doubling for Vietnam. Spencer was apparently replaced by Scott's now regular designer Chris Seager for these scenes, and ironically these scenes (with a harsh yellow DI filter and suggestive art direction) are more like classic Scott than anything else in the film!

There is a wonderful sequence set in a smoked up, 70s period Berlin (filmed in Budapest) which could have come straight out of Brian DePalma's Mission Impossible.

I found Spy Game to be an impressive little addition to the spy genre, with unexpected and pleasing visual restraint from Scott.
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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 08:15 PM

I quite liked it, too, although there is one very brief moment where there's some very obvious UK pedestrian crossing markings visible in a scene that's supposed to be in Washington.

Queens Lane in Oxford doubling for a Chinese prison was particularly masterful.

P
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#3 Tim Partridge

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Posted 10 June 2009 - 12:14 PM

I quite liked it, too, although there is one very brief moment where there's some very obvious UK pedestrian crossing markings visible in a scene that's supposed to be in Washington.

Queens Lane in Oxford doubling for a Chinese prison was particularly masterful.

P


Funny enough, that is the one moment that stood out for me too. Can we blame the editor/director/DP for getting the road in shot? The actual buildings in that outer circle of Regent's Park are pretty generic, posh house fronts that aren't too disimilar from upmarket Washington.

Does anyone else get what I am I saying about the (unusual for a Tony Scott movie) production design and the use of medium focal length lenses in this film? I would love to hear any behind the scenes stories of this film, particularly regarding if Redford had any influence on Scott's visual direction of Spy Game.
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