Talk about a bummer. Yuval Adler’s latest somber spy thriller The Operative is about as far removed from the likes of The Bourne Identity or 007 as a film about international espionage could be. In theory, a low-key depiction of undercover conspiracies would be welcome to counterbalance the overwrought escapades of our beloved cinematic spy heroes. Yet the same fate befalls Adler’s feature like the one that cursed James Marsh’s similarly low-key Shadow Dancer. Both films take “understated” to such an extreme. Everything becomes muted including the incessant, hushed plotting in dimly-lit rooms; the distant protagonists and their murky motivations, and, crucially, the point of the entire film. Its dismal grey/brown color palette doesn’t help the film’s sluggish pacing, making The Operative one of the most head-scratching, aggravating experiences of the year so far.
What makes it so infuriating is that Adler’s feature contains patches that truly work. Certain sequences sizzle with tension. It has two committed lead performances that attempt to puncture through the ambiguity of their characters with their charisma. Yet it leaves off right where it starts, ending abruptly and providing no resolution, no semblance of catharsis. If the decision to leave things unresolved was purposeful, perhaps to emphasize how global conflicts have no resolution, then it was misguided as well. Those characters, this story, needed a coherent denouement – otherwise, we’re left with a meandering circle-jerk.
“Rachel begins to integrate herself in Iran… all the while preparing for the ultimate mission: to infiltrate an influential businessman…”
I’ll try to summarize the needlessly-complex plot succinctly. Retired Mossad operative Thomas (Martin Freeman) has his morning jog in Cologne interrupted when his recruit, Rachel (Diane Kruger), contacts him after going MIA for a year. Rachel is a psychologically-unstable agent with a shadowy background. Thomas gets called into headquarters where, together with Head Operative Joe (Yohanan Herson), he attempts to uncover Rachel’s motives.