The Operative – Mission Improbable

Yuval Adler’s The Operative goes for realism, but too often, it’s its own worst enemy.

When most people hear the word “spy,” their mind usually conjures up James Bond sipping a martini or Jason Bourne jumping out of a moving car. But real spy work is unfortunately much more boring – less marksmanship, more penmanship. Films such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or Argo, however, manage to successfully portray the minutiae of espionage as nail biting houses of mirrors, full of deception and shady motivations. Sadly, The Operative, which is in theaters now, is not one of these films.

Based on the novel The English Teacher by former Israeli intelligence officer Yiftach Reicher Atir, director Yuval Adler’s second feature after his critically-acclaimed spy thriller Bethlehem has all the pieces needed for another solid tale of secrets and betrayal. Unfortunately, poor pacing and the lack of character development makes the movie a well-crafted yet underwhelming experience with a lot of setup but no punchline.

Operative

The titular operative is Rachel Currin (Diane Kruger), a drifter caught between cultures that gets recruited by Mossad to infiltrate Iran posing as an English teacher. Her handler, Thomas Hirsch (Martin Freeman), forms a personal bond with her, stalling his superiors while she learns the ropes. The objective of operation “Business as Usual” is straightforward: enter Tehran and set up a cover over multiple months; then infiltrate Razavi Electronics, a major developer of nuclear software; and finally, sabotage them and thwart Iran’s nuclear program. Once Currin begins a romantic relationship with CEO Fahrad Razavi (Cas Anvar), however, she falters and must choose between her mission and the man she fell in love with.

Secrets and Lies

The Operative makes sparing use of action – blink and you’ll miss it – instead relying on its heroine’s transformation for suspense, showing her journey from ingenue to hardened manipulator before falling victim to seduction herself. Nothing groundbreaking, but Diane Kruger and Cas Anvar manage to command attention long enough to play out the plot, even if their romance seems rushed at times. The casting of Martin Freeman, however, seems ill advised: his portrayal of a British/Jewish Mossad officer working out of Germany has him not even attempting to speak either Hebrew or German – even though his superiors do, usually accompanied by subtitles. It’s ironic, as director Yuval Adler is otherwise finely attuned to cultural differences: The scenes in Tehran and Israel are intriguing and otherworldly, shrouded in a cultural veil that most western audiences would find impenetrable but is handled delicately and respectfully. Cinematographer Kolja Brandt manages to capture life on the bustling streets of Tehran, which makes it all the more a pity that most scenes are set in offices or empty apartments, where the players discuss the mission without going anywhere – in more ways than one.

Unfortunately, most of his world building is shattered by the choice to use a nonlinear narrative: Flashbacks within flashbacks, nameless recurring characters and unresolved arcs abound. This is exacerbated by the abundance of clichés undermining realism, like falling in love with your target, near misses with the police, being betrayed by your agency, and, worst of all, a sordid sexual assault that comes out of nowhere, serves no purpose and is never alluded to again. And thus, what promises to be a suspenseful, gritty descent into the shadowy world of geopolitical intrigue and deception never quite gets off the ground – behind the smoke and mirrors, it’s quickly evident that the true mark is the audience. Business as usual indeed.

Now Playing (German Version), Apollo. 6., Gumpendorferstraße 63. Cineplexx.at

Emre Günes
Emre Günes is Viennese born and raised with Turkish roots. After finishing his international school he got a knack for writing in English and studied Journalism at the University of Westminster in London. He previously interned at a couple of import/export companies as a teen and then even at the Radio Station of the Austrian National Broadcaster (ORF) until completing his military service in 2018. He is now an intern and writes for Metropole while studying his masters for English Linguistics.

Help us help you

“Strong media and independent journalism are built on the shoulders of subscribers. Your support means the world to us.

Benjamin Wolf
COO & Managing Editor

The coronavirus outbreak affects and challenges your life in big and small ways. Metropole is here for you and we are proud to be your news source during this crisis.

But just as the coronavirus has increased the need for independent journalism, it has also undercut a major revenue source of media companies, ours included – advertising.

We need your support to keep it up – donate or subscribe and #helpushelpyou!

Support Metropole!


 

RECENT Articles

The Coronavirus in Austria & Vienna | Active Cases Again Falling

Here’s all you need to know about current measures and developments, including trusted sources and tips – regularly updated.

Book Review | Daniel Kehlmann & The Power of Mockery

In Tyll, widely-acclaimed German-Austrian author Daniel Kehlmann reinvents a medieval legend to unmask the fatuity of rulers and the wisdom of tricks.

Why the EU Recovery Fund Is a Big Deal – for Europe & for the Climate

The recent budget-corona negotiations could lead to the creation of a fiscal union and a greater emphasis on sustainability.

Musical Chairs for UK-EU Expats – Grab a Seat Before the Music Stops

As the Brexit negotiations drag on, there is still no final clarity on the future of British citizens living in Europe. It is likely to be reciprocal – whatever that means. With Boris, who knows?

Max Schrems Challenges Facebook and Wins. Again.

European court ruling strikes down the transatlantic data transfer mechanism in a case initiated by the young Austrian data privacy advocate.

Vienna Takes on Airbnb Over Social Housing

After negotiations failed, the city is suing the short-term housing platform over illegal sublets in Gemeindebauten municipal apartments.
 

METROPOLE NEWSLETTER

Join over 5,000 Metropolitans, who already get monthly news updates and event invitations.