28 July 2010

Spy Game

Spy Game (2001)
Directed by Tony Scott
Starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt

Spy Game is a film that I could watch time and time again. As the name would suggest, it is a spy thriller, yet essentially it is a story about relationships. The two main driving forces behind the plot are the relationship between Nathan Muir (Redford) and his apprentice Tom Bishop (Pitt), and Bishop and his lover Elizabeth Hadley (played by Catherine McCormack). Indeed relationships between characters are what this film is about, being in that sense an exploration of friendship and love. As illustrious as Redford's career has been, his performance in this film is certainly one of my favourite.

One of the major strengths of the movie is the chemistry between Redford and Pitt. Their characters are presented in a master and apprentice fashion, however as the plot progresses it is almost akin to a father and son. What is so magical about this relationship on screen is the striking visual similarities between the two. One does not think of the actors as playing their roles, they simply are their roles. The film may not be particularly exceptional as far as cinema goes, however the acting is truly a joy to behold.

Acting and cinematography (I love the fast pace editing and shooting style) aside, I particularly enjoy the costume design in this film. Louise Frogley's work in dressing both Redford's and Pitt's characters is fantastic.

Redford's main costume, worn around Langley, has a casual and slightly offbeat quality that clearly sets up and reflects the nature of the character he plays. It has an ease and nonchalance - with the open collar, washed broadcloth shirt and comfortable herringbone blazer - that would have no doubt been of the utmost importance to Muir's work abroad, being able to fit in where needed and quickly gain the trust of those who he needed to trust him. It stands in stark contrast to the ill fitting dark polyester suits and crisp white shirts of those who share his scenes at Langley.

The subtlety between Muir, with his textured blazer and contrasting trousers, or indeed the washed blue shirt, and the relatively standardized and soulless suiting of the ancillary characters means that the attention of the viewer is clearly centered on the character who forms the focus of the scene. However it is not a jarring or highly obvious contrast of costumes, allowing the audience to be gently and almost subconsciously led to understanding the difference between Muir and his counterparts. The costume has the feel of the friendly professor, or the charming uncle, and it is that warmth that is reflected from the character of the role and helps guide the audience.

Plus the costume is pretty damn cool.

Muir's outfits always have a refined elegance, however are comfortably casual. Whereas Bishop's outfits tend to be younger and slightly more period specific, Muir's outfits have a more traditional quality. From the cosy looking Aran sweater, to the dark plaid shirt, to the classic grey polo shirt and linen jacket, the costumes are classic and well tailored. The consistent conservative streak sets up the character as a confident and knowledgeable mentor, however the more casual elements make him seem approachable and emotionally available.

I loved the decision to give Muir a navy wool pea coat. I suppose the obvious costume for an operative abroad would have been a double breasted mac, however the sharp tailoring and structure of a pea coat allows Redford to have more of a strong presence in scenes where close up shots make the majority. Indeed one notes that Redford is presented in the pea coat in scenes where Muir is essentially telling Bishop off, or trying to convey some serious message to his student. It is however not entirely domineering, for in both instances the shirt collar is left open, reflecting the more informal nature of their relationship as master and student.

Beirut is where the audience finally get to see Muir, and not solely Bishop, working actively in the field. In the middle of a war zone Muir has far more functional clothing, yet clothing that still reflects the constructed style of the character. The outfit consists of a well-worn brown leather jacket, washed cream shirt, heather grey t-shirt, thick brown belt, khakis and suede shoes. The combination is perhaps by description slightly more suited to a younger character, however it serves a functional and deservedly cool role in Muir's wardrobe. It works particularly well alongside Bishop's younger and more deconstructed look.

Pitt's main costume in the film is where Bishop works his cover as a war photographer and journalist in Beirut. The costume immediately has a younger and more care free attitude in comparison to Muir's. Note the unbuttoned shirt to reveal bare chest, rolled sleeves, baseball cap, nonchalantly worn photographer's waistcoat, and the slim white jeans and beat up brown boots that are out of shot above. Muir's outfits always have a more traditional vibe, whereas Bishop's tend to have a far more casual and youthful appeal.

The slightly more rebellious and unkempt nature of Pitt's costume reflects the more hot headed and immature nature of Bishop, that of the student trying to prove himself and refusing to detach himself emotionally from the task at hand as his seniors would advise. Indeed I found that particular aspect, of Bishop trying to come to terms and deal with the emotional side of his work deeply fascinating.

Again this story is one that focuses on the characters, and as Bishop struggles with the work he does, he begins to have misgivings that Muir ostensibly, after so many years, does not share. The way both characters deal with the emotional stress and the need to make hard decisions allows Scott to present two characters who truly show a sense of internal struggle without being overdone or cliched.

Brad Pitt in an army uniform...enjoy ladies.

Catherine McCormack's character, Elizabeth Hadley, serves as the boiling point between Muir and Bishop. However the love story between Bishop and Hadley, along with the father and son type relationship between Muir and Bishop, makes the film. In scenes with McCormack, Pitt's costumes are usually based around unbuttoned shirts with rolled sleeves. However rather than plain shirts, they are by detailing somewhat period specific. Indeed whilst nods are subtly made towards the period specificity of scenes (ranging from the early 1970s to the end of the 1980s), what I enjoyed was that the majority of costumes tended to have a more classic quality.

The mirroring of Pitt and Redford, Bishop and Muir, was a stroke of casting genius. I especially enjoy the scene where Muir is leaving Beirut for Argentina. Both characters are presented in similar shirts with epaulets, and similar sunglasses. The audience sees Bishop as the younger counterpart to the aged Muir, and the transformation of Bishop from boy scout-turned-soldier to independent operative is truly complete.

The resemblance is uncanny no?

Some Nathan Muir inspired looks...

1. MSGM Flannel Jacket
2. E Tautz Casual Flat Front Trousers
3. Dolce and Gabbana Silk Tie
4. Givenchy Poplin Shirt
5. J. W. Benson 1915 Trench Watch
6. Nigel Cabourn Army Satchel
7. Folk Shoulder Patch Shirt
8. Clarks Desert Boots
9. Dolce and Gabbana Herringbone Jacket

1. Levi's Vintage Leather Jacket
2. Maison Martin Margiela Ankle Boot
3. Levi's Vintage Cable Knit Sweater
4. Maison Martin Margiela Scratched Cuff
5. Ralph Lauren Checked Oxford Shirt
6. Levi's Vintage Sunset Shirt
7. Rag and Bone T-Shirt
8. Paul Smith Camel Chinos
9. Barbour x Tokihito Yoshida Blouson Jacket

Currently playing: REVOFEV - Kid Cudi



  1. I can't believe I still haven't seen this one! They definitely look like "men of style." I like the pieces you picked out for Muir, especially the watch.

    I still think Redford is secretly Pitt's father, their resemblance is too uncanny.

  2. Hi, I'm a new follower of your blog, and I love it. I'll have to add this film to my list. I love spy thrillers AND Pitt and Redford. I've always thought they had similar looks, but never noticed how close the resemblance is until now.

  3. My Grandmother always says Robert Redford is today's Pitt. ;)

    I love this post. And what a coincidence because I was just thinking about your and your blog today - thanks for your comment!!


  4. Fab review and collages, DK!
    Loving those MMM boots...
    Must see this film!


  5. Gunna bust out this ilm from the archives just to get a closer look and Mr Redford's Spectacles... Brilliant.

    Yours truly


  6. so manly..I so love the comparison. Love the post!

  7. Wow, I hadn't thought of this film in ages..but such classic pieces they wore. I really enjoyed reading this post, too.

  8. Cool clothes you found from this film.

  9. I'm so impressed. Thank you for doing this post on the film and its stars.

  10. I can't remember what this movie is about anymore - but am pretty sure I liked it lol! I can't believe how much they do like alike! Wow. I'd never seen a pic of Redford from his younger day, def. an attractive man though.

    And I do like his style in the movie. Very classic.

    Thanks for the early bday wishes =D

  11. hot damn, i lingered on the robert redford photos a while. love the post, particularly your key pieces.

    xo s

  12. I love this film. I've seen it countless times. Great photos that you posted. Take care. Hope you have a great weekend.

  13. Great review and pics! Hope life is love!

  14. Great review and pics! Hope life is love!

  15. Man, another one I've not seen! Everytime bloggers write about movies, It's always another one to put on the list. Love your inspired looks too and how much attention you've paid to the costume in the film. I have to admit, one of the reasons I've started watching Mad Men is because people rave on about the costume!

  16. Thanks for the awesome review! I am definitely putting this movie on my netflix list now! :)

  17. i haven't seen it but you can't beat redford

  18. wow this report is so great!! you really seem to love this movie!

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  20. I love how you made this a fashion statement. Very cool.

  21. I really enjoyed this one. So much. I haven't thought of this film in quite a long time.

  22. such an interesting look at the past and how we still need classics like this in our wardrobe.

  23. As per usual a great editorial, dear.
    Very well written.
    Hope you had a great weekend and will have a nice week


  24. Lenghty post, but man, you nailed it! Pitt and Redford look like father and son...or at least uncle and nephew. LOL....great acting by both - would love to see them together again in another flick. Someone needs to make that happen...the inspired pieces you chose are why you are my dude. Thanks.


  25. My husband and I love Spy Game!! It is a great movie. I think the casting of Robert Redford and Brad Pitt is perfect. This might be the perfect blog to ask this question. Does anyone know if the baseball cap that Robert Redford wears in the movie means anything? It has a four leaf clover on it. Thanks so much.

  26. Anon: I believe it is just a St. Patrick's Day hat!

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    Is this possible?

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