James Norton and Gemma Arterton’s strong performances keep this thriller engaging, even if it fails to live up to the fascinating and chilling true story on which it’s based.
This review of the AMC+ film Rogue Agent does not contain spoilers.
The true story of Robert Hendy-Freegard, a conman who convinced multiple people that he was an MI5 agent, was an obvious choice for a film subject. Following the Netflix documentary series The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman, Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn direct a fictionalized film about his fraudulent actions. Rogue Agent is based on the article “Chasing Agent Freegard” by Michael Bronner, with a script by Patterson, Lawn, and Bronner. While the British thriller might be more exciting if you don’t already know much about Freegard, it’s a compelling look at how he lured in his victims.
James Norton portrays Freegard, in addition to his production company Rabbit Track Pictures backing the film. His unassuming charm is perfect for the role of Freegard as it lends him an air of credibility. Freegard claims that he’s an MI5, trying to root out the IRA, and offering to recruit his targets into the British secret service if they can complete tests to prove they’re worthy. The film doesn’t tell you outright that he’s a conman; instead, it lets you believe in his lies until he’s exposed.
The opening of the film is intense, in a way that the rest of the film never quite recaptures. Freegard is posing as a bartender in a small town and recruits Sophie (Marisa Abela), Mae (Freya Mavor), and Ian (Rob Malone) to help him with rooting out IRA members posing as students at the university they’re attending. Everything comes to a head when he tells them they must flee because their cover has been compromised. Then, the film flashes nine years forward to Freegard working as a luxury car salesman.
It’s then that he meets Alice, a litigation lawyer who is the portrait of elegance in her smart pantsuits. Gemma Arterton is perfectly cast in the role as she lends Alice an air of intelligence and self-sufficiency. So when Freegard’s flirting wears Alice down and she reluctantly starts a relationship with him, it impresses on the audience that even a woman as smart and put-together as Alice could be duped by him. Arterton gives a fantastic performance, running the gamut of emotions from her curiosity about Freegard early in their acquaintance to her despair when their relationship goes south.
Rogue Agent isn’t as thrilling as you would expect from the story it’s based on, but it focuses on Freegard’s victims and the personal toll that his fraud and abuse took on them. It never attempts to justify his actions or even delves into his motives, more interested in the women and men that he targeted. Norton and Arterton’s strong performances make up for the sometimes lacklustre script, making Rogue Agent a compelling watch.
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