7 Spy Movies That Make Espionage Boring

Friday, December 9 by
Spies shouldn't wear tweed. No one should, for that matter.  

As one gets older, a little more worldly, and a little more sophisticated, they realize that spies aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. The paradigm shifts away from James Bond, the quintessential spy, to bureaucratic schlubs that sit behind desks and have probably never worn a trench coat in their lives. It’s disheartening. As such, we find out that most spy films don’t feature fake passports, dead drops, and, in the case of the Bourne series, fights with rolled-up magazines.

Rather, the more realistic portrayals involve patient power struggles, leveraging the media, public perception, diplomacy, and (sigh) peaceful resolutions. Not a single one of them looks or acts like Austin Powers.

Here are seven movies that support my decision at 11 years old to not become a spy. Spying’s dumb.

Spy Game

Brad Pitt gets captured after trying to rescue a detainee from a Chinese prison. He will be killed in 24 hours unless the US comes forward and claims him. Sounds pretty exciting, right? Nope. The United States relies on his mentor, played by Robert Redford, to help them get some info on the captured agent. However, they actually are hoping he digs up dirt on Pitt so that they can let him die with a clear conscience. The film is peppered with flashbacks to Berlin and Lebanon when the two agents worked together.

It all works out, and very few people die. Such crap.


This spy film is based on a true story, so you just know it’s going to be boring. Robert Hannsen (played very well by Chris Cooper) was a CIA agent who was eventually convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, then Russia. But lest you think he’s some suave international man of mystery, think again. He’s a devout Catholic, a member of Opus Dei in fact, who convinces his clerk, Eric O’Neill (played by Ryan Phillippe) to resume churchgoing.

Phillippe finds that his original assignment, investigating allegations of Hannssen’s sexual deviancy, is a front for suspicions of treason. After surveiling him ad nauseum, the CIA catches Hanssen in the act of treason and arrests him. O’Neill becomes disillusioned and resigns to work in the private sector, possibly for Haliburton or something.

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