Saturday, August 6, 2022

Rogue Agent: Movie Review

A slow-burn thriller and fascinating true story.
Rogue Agent is an unnerving and stressful but ultimately fascinating story of a man who identifies himself as an MI5 agent undercover as a car salesman, but is actually a con-man pretending to be an MI5 agent undercover as a car salesman. Correct that, a luxury car salesman. There are multiple subtle things like that which turn this from a slow-burn thriller into a fascinating tale of the human psyche and the manipulation of different people.   2022

Directed by: Declan Lawn, Adam Patterson

Screenplay by: Michael Bronner, Declan Lawn, Adam Patterson

Starring: Gemma Arterton, James Norton

It starts in the early 90s. He’s working at a pub and convinces three university students that the secret service needs their help in getting close to a suspected IRA bomber. Only they can do it; the country and innocent lives are counting on them. And then suddenly he tells them their cover is blown and they have to go on the run from the IRA. It’s a fantastical story, one that you wouldn’t expect many people to believe, but what if it’s true? A risk he scares his victims into believing.

The movie is barely about him and his cons, it’s more about how do you catch and take down a con-man if most of his victims don’t think they’ve been conned? You just have people on the outside screaming into the void. And one person who was defrauded who can’t convince the authorities that it was actually a crime.

The heart of the movie lies with Gemma Arterton and her character Alice Archer. Alice is a successful lawyer who lives down the street from the luxury car showroom that Robert (James Norton) works at. He stops her to tell her how beautiful she is but then the next day he apologizes for hitting on her. Alice is so taken-aback by the apology that she’s not ready for the conversation to end.

While it seems like the movie is spending a long time on their relationship, all of the little nuggets that get built into it are critical to how Alice becomes Robert’s latest and hopefully last victim. He’s showing her that there’s more to life than her office. And he doesn’t need anything from her, just her trust. It’s been months and he’s never asked for a dime.

Alice is a smart woman. The type of woman you wouldn’t expect to be conned, but was. Arterton is phenomenal in the role. From the smart, hard exterior of a woman working with a bunch of privileged men, as she slowly loses her shell as Robert opens her up to romance, to her devastating breakdown as she realizes it’s all a con, and to her cunning determination that he can’t keep doing this and getting away with it. And I really haven’t spoiled any of the plot here, all of the gripping and interesting turns come in her attempts to take him down (and how he conned her in the first place).

My favourite scene from the movie is Alice trying to get a police officer to read the definition of kidnapping. “I know what kidnapping is. I don’t have to read it,” insists the police officer. The last sentence of the definition is “by force or fraud.” Even law enforcement forgets about the fraud part. The movie weaves that crucial difference in a few times, because things don’t hinge on the action but on the manipulation.

Rogue Agent is a stressful watch, but a really interesting one too. A spy thriller which strips away the action and leaves in its place the psychology of manipulation and the intelligence required to out-maneuver it. The movie is on Netflix in the UK and coming soon to AMC+ in Canada and the US. I hope everyone who can watch it, does. One of my favourites of the year.

One of the Best of 2022