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Inspired by true events, The Spy is an interesting and methodically paced drama, one that does well to flesh out the tragic story of Israeli spy Eli Cohen. For those unaware, the man spent years operating as a spy behind enemy lines and Netflix have done well here to dramatize the events of this man’s life without ever falling into the realm of melodrama and doing a disservice to the true story. Boasting a slick aesthetic, with muted colours and an abundance of long shots, along with a solid performance from Sacha Baron Cohen himself, The Spy does well to slowly build up to its tragic climax.
Set in the heart of the 60’s during the tense conflict between Syria and Israel, The Spy sees Eli Cohen recruited for a dangerous mission, to go behind enemy lines and try and turn the tide of war. Beginning with Eli’s training and twisting and turning through to his ultimate sacrifice for Israel, The Spy builds up each episode with a good amount of progression, jumping through the years to include some incredibly tense segments. Although you can, of course, jump into this with no prior knowledge of the story, it actually makes this narrative far more effective to know the tragic backstory, effectively turning this into a tragedy rather than an espionage thriller.
Going into this, most people will know Sacha Baron Cohen predominantly for his work in comedies. From Borat and Who Is America through to Ali G and Bruno, the man has become a household name when it comes to caricatures and comedic personas. The line between comedy and tragedy is a thin one and I’ve said it before that some of the best comedic actors can effortlessly transition to the role of tragedy given how close these two genres are to one another. Robin Williams and Jim Carrey are good examples of this, along with Ricky Gervais and Steve Carell as more recent examples. I’m really happy for Sacha that he’s got the chance to showcase his dramatic chops here in this role and he absolutely delivers.
Aesthetically the series does well to add in a lot of muted colours throughout the 6 episodes to help give a sense of time and place. The Spy is clever in depicting this too, with Israel predominantly more muted and closer to black and white than the scenes in Syria which feel more colourful and vibrant. Subconsciously this helps to place the two states separately and with such solid production and set design to back it up, The Spy feels realistic with no anachronisms in sight.
Adding to this aesthetic is the use of text too, with handwriting appearing on walls behind while morse code is depicted through words that dissolve into dashes and dots that appear on screen as Eli communicates while behind enemy lines. All of this adds to the clever use of split screens through the series and it’s these moments that really show off the clever cinematography oozing through the series.
The Spy is a well written, interesting espionage series and while it doesn’t do anything wholly original or different, there’s enough creativity with the cinematography to give this one a bit of an edge over others in this genre. Sacha Baron Cohen does really well to bring the character of Eli to life and while there are a few scenes that feel intentionally dramatic, for the most part the tense atmosphere and grounded story does well to keep this feeling realistic and stylish. While there are better espionage thrillers out there, The Spy is well worth a watch nonetheless and a story that respectfully showcases the sacrifice of this brave man.
Verdict - 7.5/10