Thursday, May 14, 2015

Spooks: The Greater Good ... shorter than Bond and Bourne, but no less enjoyable

Sir Harry Pearse is like the Robin Hood of fictional intelligence services. He sees it as his job to make the tough decisions, to weigh up levels of probable bloodshed, and to work with the big picture in mind rather than individual incidents and mounting death in service payments for his unfortunate staff.
"The Americans feel we're no longer fit for purpose - we need a scalp."
The plot's setup is that Harry (played as always by Peter Firth) goes on the run believing that someone inside MI5 helped the CIA's most wanted terrorist Adem Qasim (Elyes Gabel) escape from a gridlocked prisoner handover convoy. Intelligence chiefs blame Harry for putting possible civilian collateral damage ahead of the prisoner's continued detention.

The narrative thrives on ambiguity. Where do junior agent June’s (Tuppence Middleton) loyalties lie? Could Harry do a deal with a terrorist to flush out a rat from amongst his colleagues? Is there anyone Harry can trust? Can anyone trust Harry?

With two people on the loose, the film criss-crosses UK locations and the German capital (with the Isle Of Man ably standing in for the south coast of England) as MI5 search for Harry who they hope will lead them to Qasim. Kit Harrington plays Will Holloway, a decommissioned agent that Harry – and then MI5 – reaches out to; his Game of Thrones sword swapped for a firearm that fits into the back pocket of his jeans.

There's a nod to deceased stalwarts of the BBC One series and some familiar old faces reappear. While Harry believes most ex-agents can be categorised as "the drunk, the mad and the dead" it's a relief to see that over the 86 television episodes some people retired alive from Harry's wider team.

It's classic Spooks, wrapped up like a feature length end of series episode. Characters you've just grown to like are sacrificed with a pull of the screenwriter's trigger. The fanciful MI5 teeters on the edge due to one botched job, completely overshadowing the hundreds or thousands of other operations and threats they manage. The instability of state organisations is vastly overplayed and nearly stretches the plot beyond a reasonable level of infeasibility.

The audience can be thankful that there are fewer long, pointless chase sequences than Bond or Bourne. Running short distances is cheaper to shoot when the franchise's brand appeal is unknown and money is tight. Product placement is restricted to a white cat and black 4x4 vehicles favoured by police and security services.

Spooks has successfully transitioned from television to the big screen. The familiar grey vistas of the London skyline and concrete building are there, though the film budget extends to helicopter shots, trips to Berlin, and CGI explosions.

Where the film is less successful is the director's insistence on placing the Houses of Parliament, St Paul's Cathedral, The Shard or the London Eye in the background of every shot in London. And for some reason the pain-in-your-chest tension so familiar to fans of the ten television series is completely absent from the cinema experience. Maybe watching the 11am screening in an otherwise empty cinema changed the mood!

All in all, if you're a fan of the show, Spooks: The Greater Good is well worth a trip to your local cinema.

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