My favourite spy films of all times
In present times when it has been concluded by studies that our workday has actually stretched with the working from home model, leisure seems to have been replicated by completing household chores between calls, virtual meetings and meeting deadlines. This is a similar story throughout households, where one is just trying to catch a breathe and slow down. It’s the dinnertime for me which offers a sense of relaxation
, because it means watching a movie or a sitcom. Cinema has a unique power of making one feel ubiquitous.
Leading analysts often forward the theory that cinema is a more than an agency for leisure, propaganda, exchanging pointers on culture, educating mediums but also, in my opinion, a reflection of the society in which we inhabit. They derive their energy and plots from real-time stories and events unfolding and triangulate on a moment to be concentrated upon. Films have ideas which are to be shared and opinionated upon. They promote a culture of informing and leading the society to catch up or propel popular thought and opinion. In sum total, it’s a way of nuanced communication most effective when it touches upon the lives of people.
The culture of Over The Top (OTT) platforms in India has promoted good content to be both demanded and enjoyed. The present generations have moved away from the idiot box to enjoying well researched, acted and directed pieces. I enjoy a mix of the run of the mill rom-com (romantic comedies), fantasy movies, period dramas, mystery and suspense-driven plots; but among all I have a particular appreciation for spy films and sitcoms. This is a sub-genre. In this piece, I share my top spy films and sitcoms along with the plot in each without spoilers. I have departed from the James Bond, Jason Bourne and Mission Impossible series here. They continue to be well-liked and do figure in my honourable mentions.
Top 6 Spy Films
Munich (2005), a Steven Spielberg movie (which is more than half the reason to watch it) begins with the re-enactment of the kidnapping and deaths of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. It details out the formation of the revenge squad to kill the responsible persons.
It affords a view of the manner Israeli intelligence forces respond. The preparations for each assassination keeps you on your toes and wanting for more. It does end at a note where the protagonist is left to realise the more you kill, many more are born to replace the dead.
So what’s really ahead of you. Starring – Eric Bana (of Troy fame), Daniel Craig (James Bond fame) and others.
Bridge of Spies (2015)
Bridge of Spies (2015), another Spielberg brilliance and written by Coen brothers, is about negotiating the exchange of ‘spies’ during the Cold War between the USA and USSR. A USAF pilot was sent on a spy mission to overfly the then USSR on a reconnaissance-cum-spy operation and collect pictorial documentation on sensitive areas, when he is captured and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.
In the USA, a USSR spy is caught and a lawyer from Brooklyn James Donovan (Tom Hanks) sticks to his principles and helps him avoid the death sentence. A few years later he is sought out to negotiate the spy exchange. Starring Tom Hanks (of Forrest Gump, Cast Away and many others fame).
Argo (2012), directed by Ben Affleck and based on The Master of Disguise by Antonio J. Mendez and The Great Escape: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran by Joshuah Bearman. Inspired from true events, this was at height of the 1979 Iranian Hostage crisis. A CIA agent with a couple of Hollywood professionals cooked up a wacky scheme to free six Americans holed up in the Canadian embassy.
The Lives of Others (2006 – German drama film)
The Lives of Others, tells the story of Gerd Wiesler, Captain in the Stasi, the notorious secret police of East Germany has to spy on Dreyman, a playwright and his mistress, the actress Christa-Maria Sieland due to his Communist views and international recognition. They don’t find a shred of evidence that Dreyman is disloyal.
He begins to internalise their lives. Wiesler reaches a point where difficult decisions have to be taken, which ends his career. The Berlin Wall falls in 1989, and the plot continues for a few more years. The movie tickles a keen mind about fundamental rights and the way they are practised. A must watch!
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), is the search for a high-level Soviet spy within MI6, the British intelligence service and very much among them. The movie is based on John Le Carre’s 1974 novel which also saw a BBC adaptation in 1979. MI6 is headed by ‘Control’, who has closely studied a series of intelligence leaks and is convinced of a mole at the agency.
He is certain that it is among the higher-ups in the agency and narrows the list of suspects to five men. Rest is about finding the mole. Starring Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour fame), Colin Firth (The Kings Speech), Tom Hardy (Black Hawk Down) and others.
Zero Dark Thirty (2013)
Zero Dark Thirty (2013), tells the conviction of Maya, a CIA analyst who sticks to her view that bin Laden is not in a cave in Afghanistan, but is likely living in splendour. Most of the film involves the search of Osama, including the tracing down leads that many Americans considered too obvious and finally executing him. Starring Jessica Chastain.
Top Spy Sitcoms
Fauda (2015 till present – Netflix) meaning ‘chaos’ is an Israeli television series developed by Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff drawing on their experiences in the Israel Defence Forces. As the series progresses, it traces the involvement of Doron, a commander in the Mista’arvim Unit. In the first season, he pursues a Hamas arch-terrorist known as “The Panther.” In the second season, he begins to fathom the true nature of El-Makdessi and the third season moves the focus to Gaza, the world’s open prison.
The Spy (2019 – Netflix) has 6 episodes to relate the story of Israel’s most effective spy Eli Cohen, who infiltrated the Syrian government in the 1960-65 and eventually befriended the country’s President. The success of the 6 limited episode series is due to the enormous talent of Sacha Baron Cohen, which makes it truly a must-watch. It encapsulates the life of a spy and their tricks of the tradecraft.
Each of the above is gripping in its unfolding of the plot; but more than that it is the impact it leaves with the viewer as that being transported and being transfixed in the moment. As already pointed out that cinema is highly educative when setting the context, each of the above have measured well on the scale of keeping the environment relatable to context.
While I continue to scour for great content, I hope that Indian cinema is able to produce one which can be enjoyed.
Contributor: Amrita Paul
About our Writing Program Student
Amrita Paul is a Senior Programme Officer with the Prison Reforms Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. She has a Master’s Degree in Law (LL.M.) Human Rights from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. The primary focus of her work is to target unnecessary and prolonged detention of undertrials and work towards systemic interventions to prevent it. She loves watching movies and sitcoms (when she has time), cooking and creating new recipes, reading Christie’s and murder mysteries and appreciating music.
Work from home has made workday of Indians 32 minutes longer