Spy Game (Rental) (2001)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Rental Version Only
Available for Rent

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio & Animation
dts Trailer-Piano
Trailer-Back To The Future Trilogy
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 120:19
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (78:52) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Tony Scott

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Robert Redford
Brad Pitt
Catherine McCormack
Case ?
RPI Rental Music Harry Gregson-Williams

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Director Tony Scott has a reputation for films that are somewhat loud, visual spectaculars, with only a passing regard to character development. Think Top Gun, Enemy of The State, Crimson Tide, and Days Of Thunder to name but a few. I initially baulked when I saw the Spy Game trailer at the cinema earlier this year due to his name being in the credits and the thought of just another run-of-the-mill action thriller. I picked up the Region 1 disc a couple of weeks ago when curiosity got the better of me.

    Set in 1991, Robert Redford stars as Nathan Muir, a CIA operative, who just happens to be on his last day on the job before taking a deserved retirement. An old-school spy with plenty of street cred and experience, he is not afraid to bend a few rules and tread on the toes of those above him who he sees as simply getting in his way. When his old protégé Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) is busted in China while attempting a covert operation in a prison and given 24 hours before a nasty execution, Muir must use all his nous to find a way of saving Bishop's life. The problem is that those in CIA working on the case would rather disavow all knowledge of Bishop and sacrifice him in order to allow the planned Presidential trade talks in China to go ahead smoothly. Muir is called into a crisis room to discuss his knowledge of Bishop and hand over all documents pertaining to his relationship with him. Muir smells something wrong when not all the information about why Bishop was caught in a Chinese prison in the first place and what the agency is doing to rescue him is forthcoming. He feels the heat from the usual archetypal bad-agent while getting the soft touch from the agency director. Muir decides to use all his resources to put a plan into action to get Bishop out of China, with or without the official help of his CIA colleagues.

    Although the actual story unfolds in less than 24 hours, the plot is developed in a series of flashbacks. It shows the Muir and Bishop relationship growing via various field engagements over a series of years in Vietnam, East Germany and Lebanon. It is during the time in Beirut that Bishop developed a relationship with an aid worker in Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack) that while not really going anywhere in those scenes, is sort of important to the plot.

    Robert Redford is excellent (as usual). He brings a sense of quality to what would probably be an otherwise bland and forgettable set of characters. In fact, this is really Redford's film. Without him, the whole thing would have probably sunk without a trace. The story certainly has flaws, a couple of gaping plot holes, and that usual Tony Scott feel to the whole thing, with lots of sweeping aerial shots, rapidly panning camera angles and rather loud scene transitions that we have seen many times before.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


   The original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is presented here, complete with 16x9 enhancement.

    The transfer is nice and sharp with a high level of detail. You can see every line on Robert Redford's face - and they are abundant. There are no problems with any shadow detail. Grain is only briefly noticed, though at 81:35 it is quite dominant in the background of the image. There is no low level noise.

    The colours are solid with natural skin tones and solid blacks all round. There are no problems with oversaturation or any other colour issues.

    There are no MPEG artefacts but I wish I could say the same for film-to-video artefacts, particularly aliasing, which pops up frequently. The most notable example occur at 8:59 on the side of a building, at 9:47 on CIA Headquarters, 11:30 on a desk lamp, 13:01 and 27:18 on Robert Redford's jacket, and the worst of all, on the conference table in CIA headquarters at 16:07 and 52:15 (these being the two worst cases, but this problem arises virtually every time the said table appears on screen and is very distracting). There is also a rather noticeable moiré effect at 15:17. Film artefacts are mostly absent, which is expected given the youth of the material.

    There are only two subtitle streams on this disc; English and English Titling. What's the difference I hear you say? Well, instead of whenever a foreign language is spoken and the usual burned-in English subtitles appear, this actually gives you the option to turn them off. A neat touch. As most of us will likely want them on, stream two is the default and is turned on. In addition to languages, there are also several location captions that appear when the titling is turned on. I would strongly recommend that you watch with this option on, as the early scenes in the prison don't quite make sense without them. The normal English subtitles work fine, though are not completely accurate.

    This is a dual layered disc with the layer change occurring at 78:52, right on a scene change, and is barely noticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio is without a doubt the highlight of this package. It's loud, it's brash, and it comes served up as both Dolby Digital 5.1 and dts soundtracks. I listened to the dts soundtrack the first time round, then switched over to the Dolby Digital 5.1 for a comparison. It's actually a little difficult to directly compare the tracks, as quite frustratingly you need to switch back to the main menu, select the other soundtrack, and then start the film again. A real pain. Needless to say, both tracks offer a superb range of dynamics, with a great deal of low end activity and plenty of surround use. I really can't separate them. Maybe the bottom end is better with the dts, but it is hard to tell. Fear not if you are without the means to play those tracks, as the Dolby Digital is just as good and this is approaching demonstration material for your speakers and amp.

    Dialogue is excellent, with no problems to report. The are no audio sync problems.

    There is plenty of atmospheric and tension building music. The score pops up throughout and while it gets a little repetitive, it suits the style of film well.

    The surround channels see action from virtually the opening scene, with lots of volume and plenty of panning effects zipping from front to back and across the rear channels.

    Much like the rear channels, the subwoofer sees plenty of action throughout. There's a particularly good explosion at 25:02 that sees it rumble nicely.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    This is a rental-only release at this stage, so the extras are pretty thin.

Main Menu Audio & Animation

dts Trailer - Piano

Trailer - Back To The Future Trilogy

    Now this is good to see. Presented full screen, though, which is a little disappointing, it runs for 1:34 minutes. Really just highlights from the three films to the sounds of Huey Lewis and The News' Power of Love. There are no hints as to what the DVDs may contain. I can't wait...

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this DVD misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this DVD misses out on;

    This is certainly comparing apples to oranges at present, as the local disc is a bare bones rental-only release. The Region 1 disc is packed with extras, some quite good, others fairly pointless, but they are done with flair and a nice menu system. More importantly, the aliasing problems so evident on the Region 4 disc are not present on the Region 1 version. At the moment, you cannot go past the Region 1 disc.


    While not the greatest espionage thriller ever made, Spy Game will offer a great night's entertainment. The slick and brash direction of Tony Scott once again makes the whole process seem like a big commercial for television, but with Robert Redford in the cast a certain credibility is evident that lifts the whole plot above the run-of-the-mill.

    The video is not without flaws, in particular aliasing, but is still mostly pleasing to the eye.

    The audio soundtracks, complete with dts and Dolby Digital variants, are excellent, with pumping dynamics, heaps of bottom end, and constant surround use.

    No extras yet. We'll have to wait for the retail version.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Tuesday, June 25, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5006DD, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

Other Reviews
Web Wombat - James A
DVD Net - Adrian T
The DVD Bits - John Z
region4dvd.net - Darren R (read my bio (fun for the whole family))
Jeff K's Australian DVD Info Site - Jeff K

Comments (Add)
Rental Windows -
Toshiba Owners: Beware of Spy Game R1 - Ben H (My biography. Go on have a read...)