No. I’m not going to give you 20 reasons. Hahahaha. I think click-bait titles are hilarious. But here is what I am going to do – I will walk you through why The Operative is one of the best, and most realistic spy films of all time. (Not that I have any credentials as a spy. But go ahead and ask your spy friends, and they will tell you, that The Operative is 100% on target. I promise.) So, shall we away with our 20 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ignore The Operative Movie? hahahah.
The Operative movie is based on Yiftach Atir’s book, The English Teacher. It is a tightly wound psychological thriller that is about as far from the likes of Bond, James Bond as spy thrillers can possibly be. So, if you prefer your spy movies to be of the more comic book variety, feel free to give this one a pass. But, if you are still intrigued, it tells the story of a Western woman recruited to become an undercover agent in Tehran. You know, The Tehran, the one that happens to be in Iran? (Which reminds me, I had an amazing conversation with one of my Iranian readers a little bit ago. You might find it interesting. I know I did. (Pardon me whilst I pat myself on the back.)) Already my blood is pounding. A woman. Sent to Iran, by herself. Without any backstopping…no support? Gah. And the story, told in cleverly arranged flashbacks and subtle reveals, walks us through the ever tighter entanglements that “Rachel” finds herself in.
If you really are desperate for me to give you 20 reasons still…even after I told you I wouldn’t, I could give you your 20. Though I’d probably repeat Diane Kruger 10 times. And follow that by Martin Freeman another ten. These two are really fantastic. Sure, that is cheating. But this is my blog – not yours. You’ll be fine. When have you ever clicked through a click-baity title and gone, OHHHH, yes! Those 14 reasons completely explain why Brad Pitt will be the next President of the United States. It just doesn’t happen. You were curious, then you get to point 1 and think, uh, and by point 3, you are already wondering if this was written by a human being or a bot. And by point 7 you are already investigating the next click-baity post title in the gutter over there. I’m just the first actual blog post that explains, out loud, that I am lying to you. They do it as well, but they try to hide this fact from you.
OK, ok ok – enough click-bait digressions. The Operative is a well told, well edited, fairly complicated little story about a female operative in Tehran. It requires your attention, and most of the people knocking it are probably finding it fairly hard to track with. So please don’t assume you can have this movie on in the background and come away understanding what happened in the end. Alright?
If you are interested in watching – and then coming back to read through the rest of this spoiler filled post – you can do so here, here, or here. But please don’t continue on through the rest of this post unless you’ve taken the opportunity to check out the lovely Diane Kruger, and brilliant Martin Freeman for yourself.
Quick Operative Movie Walkthrough
The story kicks off at the end. Thomas, played by Martin Freeman, is called by Rachel, who is played by Diane Kruger, to tell him that her father is dead…again. And we quickly learn that “Your father is dead” was the extraction key-phrase…it was to let him know that danger was imminent. We also learn, that it had been used once before, but the previous time it was invoked by Thomas, not the other way around. But when Rachel calls Thomas this time, Thomas has been retired for quite some time. He’s completely clueless as to what is going on. It’s a pretty good opening hook, as far as spy movies (novels) go. And soon, Thomas is being interrogated by a number of different spy agencies, and various personalities, all wondering the same thing – where has Rachel gone, and what did she want with Thomas?
Thomas then, in an effort to bring his interviewers up to speed, we move backwards in time to Rachel’s initial recruitment and her eventual placement in Tehran. I have to pause here and say, that yes, if you don’t think a woman’s placement in Iran, alone, isn’t a stressful thing, then this movie obviously wasn’t for you. And, as far as most reviewers of this movie goes, they too didn’t think it very stressful, or much to gape at. But personally, having traveled by myself to numerous unsavory places around the world, I was mortified for this character. In Manila once I had my passport stolen. In Peru I had several thumb drives stolen out of my backpack. I had a friend get, um, excreted (??) on, while on the Paris Metro. Just the other day, several of my iPads were stolen out of checked bags while there on the ground in Guatemala. If you’ve done enough international travel, you know the risks that can happen. Now, imagine moving to Tehran, as a spy. Yeah, let me just put it this way, I was emotionally vested.
As an ESL teacher, there in Tehran, her cover was perfect. She loved the city. She loved the work. And in time, she met and fell for a guy named Farhad (played by Cas Anvar). Farhad, happens to be an electronics and software provider throughout the Middle East, and Thomas takes advantage of this relationship, and begins bringing broken nuclear parts to him to sell. You see what happened there? Solely because of Rachel’s relationship with Farhad, nuclear electronics deals start coming his way. And from there, his influence in trade was what mattered most to the Mossad. From there, the Mossad decided to begin cutting out Rachel, and levering Farhad to go to them directly. And after Farhad asked Rachel to start delivering illicit parts illegally into Iran, Farhad’s goose was all but cooked. Mossad pinches Farhad to get him to run busted nuclear parts into Iran, and it seems like Rachel is getting deported. From his standpoint, he thought she was an innocent bystander that it was his duty to protect. Until, that is, he finds out she was an agent herself. That she wasn’t a victim of this inflicted atrocity, but she was the cause – a prime mover the Mossad’s subterfuged plot. (Dude, I just want a verb of the root word Subterfuge. Subterfugian? No, that would be an adjective. Neither words are correct…and better yet, it isn’t even a word. But feel free to recommend a new one for me. I need subterfuge verbed, dang it!)
The Ending of the movie The Operative
So, we arrive at the end, or more accurately, the beginning, of our narrative. The urgent passphrase. The urgent request for extraction. But, extraction from what? Rachel, or whatever her name is, isn’t in the employ of anyone anymore. She was extracted physically, and Farhad was manhandled into being the go-between the Mossad and Iran on these nuclear electronics. Rachel evades all the various security agencies, who are now actively worried that she’ll tell her story – she is a liability. They realize she’s changed her name on her passport from Ann to Anne with an “e”. (Someone should explain to the Mossad and the NSA how to do a like search or better yet, a wildcard % search! I seriously digress here.)
And this is where the true purpose of Rachel’s original call comes into play. Rachel knew that it was only a matter of time before the Mossad caught up to her. And she also knew that there really was only one person who could get her answers, as well as protect her. And that was Thomas. And even though they kept everything between them 100% professional, she knew that he had always tried to protect her. And now, as she was needing to get back in touch with Farhad, she knew that Thomas would do whatever he could to keep the agency from killing her. Which, he ultimately did in the end.
The ending was less a story about spy moves, and chess pieces, but rather a character story about Rachel. Rachel, the woman who had always had a hard time ever putting roots down anywhere. The woman who was one of the only spies used by the Mossad without backstop support in the field. And when Rachel finally does put down roots, it is in Iran, and with “the enemy.” It’s about the Mossad using her and discarding her. And it’s about Rachel countering them regardless of their intention to murder her as a result. It’s about Rachel pushing back, and doing the right thing for Rachel for once.
I think anyway. Because that ending was convoluted as all get out. What did you think of The Operative? Too vague an ending for you? I personally liked the vagueness, as I always do. But it did strike me as a little bit of a random ending. Rachel wanted to say hello to Farhad, and so she calls Thomas with her extraction code word, which in turn spins up all the spy communities of the world into a right lather? Huh. I guess? Did it come across as legit to you though? The entire movie seemed extraordinarily legit to me.
Which reminds me of a story. Story Time With Taylor:
I’ve never told this story before. But, I don’t think I can’t tell this story? I didn’t sign anything saying I wouldn’t. And the job never happened. (With me anyway.) I’m guessing someone, somewhere built them what it was that they were looking for. Maybe? Although my solution to their problem would have been infinitely better than anyone else’s. I’m CERTAIN of that fact.
Anyway, I regularly do side web work to build websites for people. I’ve done it since I was in high school, and I made a career out of it. So, anyway – all that to say, I regularly get calls from people out of the blue saying – “hey, I hear you build web stuff?” And so when this particular guy called me, I thought nothing of it. “Sure, I’d come visit their offices, and chat with them about what they are needing.” No worries.
Well, I arrive at this nondescript building. Think small glass high rise with offices and cubes. But when I get to the front door to the specific business – the window is bullet proof. Huh. That seems weird. And when I meet the two guys, and they take me back to their offices, I am noticing bulletproof vests, hand-grenades (that are fake I assumed), riot gear, the works. So when they start to tell me about the website they want, I stop them, and ask what it is that they do?
“Oh, we work with ICE, which is now under Homeland Security.” Or some such. I was too stunned by the loud ringing in my ears to realize what the words were that they were using. The website that they wanted, was going to be a honeypot. A honeypot for selling non-exportable technologies in order to jail spies attempting to export said technologies. I won’t get too specific with that the tech was that they were selling, but suffice it to say, it was just a trap. And my solution was super super cool. It was going to basically approximate other similar real businesses that sold similar technologies, but it would allow them to dump the branding and reskin the website into a new business with the press of a button. We would pre-load these site configurations, and after a big sale, or they are sniffed out, booom – transformed into a 100% new clearing house of non-saleable, non-exportable, technologies. Would have been ultra. Ah well. Anyway, that is the closest I’ve ever gotten to playing with real world spy games. (These guys told me a million stories about what they do and the trade-craft involved and it was so normal. So not James Bond. I mean, minus the fact that they capture and recover millions of dollars of illegal equipment in order to protect our country. So, yeah, minus that particular fact.) But all that to say, The Operative seemed very much like these guys. Very normal. Very unexceptional.
Edited by: CY