October 2nd, 2020
MOVIE: A CALL TO SPY
STARRING: SARAH MEGAN THOMAS, STANA KATIC, RADHIKA APTE, LINUS ROACHE
DIRECTED BY: LYDIA DEAN PILCHER
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 1 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Just two weeks ago, USA Today released the report that almost two-thirds of millennials and generation Z did not know that six million Jews were killed in the holocaust. It’s painful, absolutely stupefying, to read a report like that, but here we are. The facts can be revealed watching numerous movies: Schindler’s List, Son of Saul, Life is Beautiful, The Pianist, Sophie’s Choice, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and on and on. There are so many movies about the atrocities commited against Jewish people by Nazi’s, that it is practically it’s own genre. Even movies about WWII are in a subtextual way about the fight on the ground to save human lives, both during, and after the war ended. The Reader, or Inglorious Bastards, or even Saving Private Ryan have the lingering fact that six million people lost their lives at the hands of Hitler. So it brings me little joy to explain that I was not a fan of A Call to Spy, which is about French and American women on the ground in Europe, working as undercover spies to defeat the Germans during WWII. When films about the war, and everything that it was about, are good, it is a great achievement. When they are bad, you wish they hadn’t made the movie at all. A Call to Spy is a well intentioned picture, about brave women, working together for a common purpose, but the final result is a clunky dud of a drama.
When watching A Call to Spy it is hard to know exactly where it all went wrong. The screenplay seems to be engaging enough, telling the story of three various women that put their lives on the line to help defeat the enemy. The star is Sarah Megan Thomas, who also wrote the screenplay, playing Virginia Hall, one of the first women brought in by the British spy agency SOE (Special Operations Executive) to recruit fighters and more women to help in all spying efforts. Working behind the scenes is Vera Atkins (Stana Katic), the woman in charge of her spies, constantly being undermined by the men in the room, but strong enough to push through the crap. The new spy recruited is Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Apte), placed in locations like Paris and Berlin as a code operator, sending messages and plans back to British intelligence to be steps ahead in the war.
For the most part, A Call to Spy looks good, with costumes, and sets that look like a war torn time period, but it also looks incredibly cheap. I kept wondering what sets were being reused? Was this the setting for a BBC television show? Either way, there’s a contrived sense to all facets of this film. The dialogue written by Thomas feels forced in the moments and there is an incredible lack of attention to details. When the details look phony, it leaves me bored, especially when the subject matter should build tension for women that put their lives on the line at every moment.
Maybe for me it just wasn’t the right time, or I wasn’t in the mood, for a movie about war and the spies working behind the scenes. This is undoubtedly a courageous story, celebrating women that helped save lives. If that is going to be done, you want it to be done right and A Call to Spy does less than minimum. There are moments that confirm director Lydia Dean Pilcher has the ability to make it work, but those are too little, and too late. It all was summed up in a scene where a character is killed by a firing squad and the camera focuses on the victim, but fails to reveal a single drop of blood after the bullet strikes. It’s not that we want the blood, it’s that A Call to Spy forgets that the movie it is making needs to look real. Everything about A Call to Spy looks and feels like a cheap copy of better movies we’ve seen before.
A CALL TO SPY IS IN SELECT THEATERS THIS WEEKEND AND AVAILABLE ON DEMAND FROM IFC FILMS
1 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady