A spy thriller for the modern world – Rogue Agent (Film Review)

Rogue Agent (alternative title ‘Newcomer‘) opened at independent film festival Raindance last September. It’s an intelligent psychological thriller – a spy movie that reflects the truly uncertain world we currently live in. Unlike similar movies from the same genre this is a story told with grit and wit. Conventions are used them manipulated – twists and turns occur in ways unexpected – nothing is quite as it appears.

Alex (James Floyd) is a rookie operative on his debut mission with the agency’s best team. The four people he has been paired with are now his new family, particularly team leader Daniel (Anthony LaPaglia) who has become a almost like a father figure to Alex. He sees that there is something special about Alex – how Alex’s OCD and resulting photographic memory is not a weakness but a strength. However, on his first mission, Alex makes a mistake which costs the entire team their lives. On the run from the agency it is up to Alex alone to uncover just what happened, with only the audio recording to guide him.

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What makes this film comfortably stand out from the rest of the genre is the innovative strategies used to tell what could be a familiar story. There’s a moment early on when Alex and Daniel have a conversation, during which Daniel talks about his childhood. It’s such an overused trope it sets of the alarm bells – *Beeep Beeep Daniel is going to die* (though perhaps less utilized than the good ol’ I’m one day from retirement..!)  that the outcome of the mission (the four deaths seemingly at the fault of Alex) isn’t particularly surprising.

What is surprising is how engaging and effective the sequence ends up being. By choosing a restricted narrative, whereby we only have Alex’s perspective on events, we are left as confused as Alex by how quickly and horrifically events escalated. The cinematography here is also excellent – the decisions regarding camera shots & lighting are immensely well chosen – as the sense of inevitably prevails over the tragic scene Alex uncovers.

Perhaps the true narrative innovation here, which indicates promising things from the key players involved, is the use of recreation & reenactments. Alex knows the only way to identify what has happened is to listen to the audio, to truly dissect it, break it down to the sums of its parts to identify what exactly occurred. And so we get to revisit the scene of the crime, a scene that Alex only heard and did not witness, again and again. But each time is different – each time Alex plays stage director, altering the movements of his characters, desperately establishing it only through audio recording. It is this sections of the film which truly engage.

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A few areas of the film do let it down – the pacing of the film is slightly off, some scenes just go on too long and the tension of the film loses it’s tautness. There’s also a ‘romantic’ (it’s not massively romantic hence the punctuation!) that is unnecessary; it comes out of nowhere, adds little to the plot and the film overall. The decision to use a murky colour palette and hand-held camera work works on occasion, yet restricts the film from truly immerses the viewer in this world.

However the good about this film fair outweighs the bad. When the film really works, such as during the reenactments and when Alex is desperately dissecting the audio clip for clues, it is immensely effective. The standout aspect of the film has to be James Floyd’s performance as Alex. Considering how little dialogue he has the film is reliant on his facial expressions and movement to create a character we care and worry for. This really works, particularly during a torture sequence that becomes an immensely visceral experience to watch.

For anyone with even a passing interest in spy and espionage films, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here that is rather refreshing and new. If you’re simply looking for a film to watch one evening, you’ll find a film that is more than entertaining with more than enough to hook you in.

3/5

Dir: Kai Barry

Scr: Iqbal Ahmed and Kai Barry

Cast: James Floyd, Noémie Merlant, Anthony LaPaglia, Dragan Micanovic, Jefferson Hall. 

Prd: Srdjan Stakic

DOP: Erol Zubcevic

Music: Carlos Martín

Country: US/Serbia

Year: 2016

Run time: 95 minutes

Rogue Agent is out now.