The Spy Who Fell to Earth is an engrossing documentary that looks at the investigation of confirmation and mystery secret agent (or double) Ashraf Marwan.
I have a confession to make: I’m a sucker for a good spy thriller. I love them, and not just the James Bond films of the world (even though most of those are pretty great). You have the action-packed technical marvel and stunts of Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible films or Matt Damon’s raw, often brutal, and more grounded action sequences which made for a more visceral experience in the Bourne series. Then, there are the spy fan’s deep dives of the John Le Carre adaptations; where you have the cold, slow, chess-like moves that build the tension steadily, causing your knuckles to go white while gripping your armrest, waiting for the big reveal that is free of red herrings (if you haven’t watched Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, please apologize, then go watch it). That doesn’t exclude a documentary from taking the reins of a good spy-thriller; in the golden age of documentary filmmaking (Three Identical Strangers, Free Solo, The Art of the Steal, and Imposter are all wonderful examples of thrilling docs made this decade) no subject is off limits. The new documentary, The Spy Who Fell to Earth, is an upfront, engrossing, and intriguing documentary that looks at the investigation of the confirmation and mysterious life of Ashraf Marwan.
Netflix made a film about the Marwan affair, The Angel, and bought the rights of the Salon Pictures’ documentary that premiered on Netflix on April 1st, 2019. The film chronicle’s journalist and political scientist Ahron Bregman (who is based in the United Kingdom but of Israeli origin, and also specializes in the Arab-Israeli conflict), claim the son-in-law of the Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was a Mossad spy for Israel. What sets Bregman’s story apart from other spy tales, besides it being “based” on a true story, is that Marwan was not just an Israeli agent, but a double agent working for the Egyptian government.
For those who like their spy films action packed with lots of explosions, then The Spy Who Fell to Earth may drag on for some. Even more so if you are not a fan of documentary films. Director Tom Meadmore goes for the straightforward narrative while bringing up several questions on who killed one of the great secret agents of our time, or if he was actually a double agent or a man who was ambitious, who married into a family that would get him to where he wanted to be. He pulls in the viewer, with every satisfying investigative morsel, just like a Le Carre novel or adaptation; if you are not a discerning viewer, this documentary can be hard to follow and benefits from being able to stop, then to rewind to review the dense information being presented.
When the credits start to roll when finishing The Spy Who Fell to Earth, you are left with just as many questions as there are answers. You can make your own conclusions even though Bregman’s theory is clearly being supported, to a degree, but the filmmakers should give credit for showing the detractors of Bregman’s documented book. In the end, with the evidence presented, you are forced to ask yourself and wonder who you can actually trust when telling this story. Which, essentially, is what a good spy story is all about: sorting out the truth versus misinformation.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.