This is one I’m sure you did not get the chance to see in a cinema. It’s a French spy thriller of the Hitchcock variety written and directed by Nicolas Saada. Given that this is his first film, Saada shows great promise.
Espion(s) may be a French film, but it takes place almost entirely in London, so half of the film is in English. It’s about an intelligent young man (played perfectly by Guillaume Canet) who gets in trouble with the French authorities and is given only one way to avoid prison or worse: work with the French equivalent of the CIA and their British counterparts in MI-5 to uncover a Syrian plot to smuggle explosives into Europe. The thriller plot of Espion(s) feels like a mediocre TV show. Indeed, the BBC show Spooks (known in North America as MI-5) is generally far superior in plot development. So if Espion(s) was just a thriller, it would be a dud.
Fortunately, Espion(s) is much more than a thriller. At its heart, Espion(s) is a romance, a unique romance that is deftly handled by the director and beautifully performed by the two leads (Canet and Geraldine Pailhas). Both of these characters are sad lonely people shuffling through life without purpose. They are not just looking for connection but something more profound. But they are brought together in a way that guarantees deception and betrayal and all that good stuff, so this is a romance that is doomed from the start. The unsensational way this is filmed is very unusual (and Hollywood wouldn’t have a clue where to even start), making Espion(s) a superior drama even as it fails as a thriller.
I should mention that the acting is very good all around, with important supporting roles played by Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife), Alexander Siddig (Deep Space Nine) and veteran British actor Stephen Rea. The London cinematography is also well done.
So Espion(s) is a mixed bag and even the ending is both good and unsatisfying at the same time, depending on whether one is watching a drama or a thriller. Objectively, Espion(s) surely deserves no more than *** but you know how much I like slow-moving European suspensers where the emphasis is on characters and drama, so this is another film that just squeaks over the line to ***+. My mug is up.