The Operative Review: Being A Spy Is Bland Even If You’re Diane Kruger

August 4, 2019
Jonathon Wilson 0
Film, Film Reviews
2

Summary

Diane Kruger’s solid leading performance isn’t enough to overcome a bland, convoluted screenplay in this tepid spy thriller.

2

Summary

Diane Kruger’s solid leading performance isn’t enough to overcome a bland, convoluted screenplay in this tepid spy thriller.

You can sometimes trace a film’s history and make a reasonably accurate guess of what it’s going to be like. The Operative, written and directed by Yuval Adler, is adapted from the novel The English Teacher by intelligence officer Yiftach Reicher Atir. What you expect, then, is realism; the kind of nuts-and-bolts anti-Hollywood spycraft that is as true to life as such things can reasonably be. And for the most part, you get that, or at least a version of it. That’s the problem.

Diane Kruger plays Rachel, a woman recruited by Mossad and sent to Tehran to pose as an English teacher, and is very good here — perhaps more so than she’ll be given credit for. She has to be, of course; all The Operative‘s moments of suspense, some of which are quite effective, are reliant on her coming close to being rumbled but maintaining her cover. Martin Freeman is good too as her handler Thomas, whose recollections of that Tehran mission, during which Rachel fell for Farhad (Cas Anvar), whose company she was supposed to infiltrate, are key to understanding her motivations in the present-day.

A lot of this is presented non-linearly, as is typical of ostensibly authentic examinations of espionage. But it doesn’t help an audience invest in a two-hour film that doesn’t work particularly hard at being compelling. The characters, despite being brought to life by more-than-competent actors, are generic, and the script doesn’t give them an excuse not to be. Dynamics — platonic, professional, romantic — don’t feel fleshed-out and lively. The plotting is rote. For all its feints at twists and turns, it’s easy enough to see where The Operative is going.

Adler’s direction — this is his second full-length feature — is workmanlike, clearly inspired by more grounded spy stories, and he can build suspense capably when the occasion calls for it. But as yet he isn’t very good at bringing depth out of his characters. Without those extra contours, The Operative is just flat, too generic and tepid to excite an audience who have already been on countless missions just like this one.

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