The Operative, written and directed by Yuval Adler, is a new spy-thriller film that is elevated by its wonderful cast. Based on the novel The English Teacher by Yiftach Reicher-Atir, this is a relatively by-the-book spy thriller, although it does have a surprising amount of relevance to today’s society.
The movie is about a foreign woman who is recruited by the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, to work undercover in Iran. There’s some double-crossing, a few intense action sequences, and some steamy romance scenes, and while it is refreshing to see a female spy doing all of these things for a change, you can’t help but feel like you’ve seen this story before.
Perhaps the film’s fatal flaw is that it chose to take a nonlinear approach to the story. The narrative is framed through the protagonist’s handler, relaying her experiences secondhand during an investigation. However, this draws you out of the story in two ways. For one, the handler wasn’t with her for every second of the story, so it creates a credibility gap. Furthermore, it simply causes the story to feel choppy and poorly-paced.
It’s really a shame that the script is so messy because there are some interesting themes on which the movie attempts to provide commentary. One of the core ideas that is explored in the film is loyalty. Both of the lead characters are not Israeli-born, and as such, there is some paranoia regarding their loyalty to the agency. Had the filmmakers taken this theme and ran with it, the movie would have been much better as a whole.
Also disappointing is the film’s lackluster character development. There is a significant problem with a movie when the protagonist is far less interesting than the narrator. More often than not, you are more interested in the handler’s story than the actual agent’s. For obvious reasons, this isn’t a particularly good thing for a spy film. If you don’t really care about the spy, you can’t truly believe the stakes.
The main saving grace for this movie is its phenomenal cast. Diane Kruger does an excellent job in her leading role. Granted, this isn’t her most complex work, but she does a good job kicking butt and taking names. Getting to watch her as a spy makes it worth the two hours and rental fee. Martin Freeman also gives a solid performance as her handler. Although he isn’t given a lot to do, he has great chemistry with Kruger and the rest of the ensemble.
The film is pretty solid on a technical level too. The style of the movie is mostly conventional, but it is also mostly effective. Adler does a great job of building suspense throughout despite the generic feeling of the story, especially in scenes shot in close quarters. There is one scene in particular, taking place in a truck, that will almost certainly have you on the edge of your seat.
The Operative doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table apart from being a female-led spy film. That said, it is mostly entertaining for its two-hour runtime and the cast does a great job. This isn’t one you need to rush out to see, but it is worth a watch.
The Operative is now in theaters and on VOD.