The Spy Netflix Review - Understated Genius or Another Boring History Lesson?

The Spy Netflix Review - Understated Genius or Another Boring History Lesson?

Sacha Baron Cohen plays an Israeli spy behind enemy lines during the 1967 conflict with Syria, but is this real history or a fanciful farce?

When someone mentions Sacha Baron Cohen, the first thing people think is Borat. This particular series shows the depth of the actor, and why thinking about him in such a single type of role is the worst thing you can do to yourself. Reality series hijinks aside, Cohen's ability to maintain character in the most difficult of situations would be second nature to him in this role. In The Spy, Cohen plays former Mossad agent Eli Cohen (no relation) in a retelling of the daring behind-enemy-lines activities that allowed the Israeli state to avoid being overrun by their neighbors during the country's 1967 war with Syria.

A Chameleon Among Men

What sets a spy apart from others? In this series, we follow Eli Cohen's rise from a recently emigrated office worker to an import/export merchant leading a double-life as a secret agent. When providence allows Eli to meet the drunken nephew of one of the highest-ranking generals in Syria, our protagonist infiltrates the upper echelons of the country's government. He passes information to the Israelis to help them prepare for the coming war. The story is based on the real-life events of a former spy that should make for a great retelling. Except there are some things terribly wrong with how this series approaches telling a spy story.

Mr. Bond? Is That You?

Crowded Syrian Street - The Spy

As the series progresses, we become intimately aware of the struggles that Eli faces in his personal life. We also get a glimpse into how his spycraft affects his relationship with his wife and child. The drawback that this series has comes from the lack of spice that we usually get from spy flicks. Eli has hidden his identity well (something far easier to do in 1967 than it is to do today), but there are only a few rare moments of exposure that we have to fear for his life. The juxtaposition of Eli's "spying," together with his wife's struggles at home, makes for a series that is a little boring. We aren't watching a spy film to see the tired domestic worries we've seen in so many shows before. We're watching it for the spycraft.

A Thrilling Ending but a Long Lag Time

By the end of the series, we've covered a lot of ground. Most of it is historically accurate and shows a unique take on the Golan Heights conflict. However, it does leave you feeling wanting more. Most of what we've seen through the series isn't focused around spying, but more around interpersonal relationships. While Sacha Baron Cohen is a brilliant actor for the role, the character he plays could have been fleshed out far better. At the end of it all, we are only aware of two facets of Eli, his job as a spy, and his lack of a proper family life with his wife and child. The conclusion is supposed to be a wallop that hits you right in the feels, but it just fails to land because of how little we connect with Eli. As a retelling of history, The Spy is moving and poignant. As a bit of entertainment, it needed a little more fleshing out to achieve its goal.

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