By Adam Ray Palmer
Yuval Adler returns to the Berlinale this year with his second ever feature, The Operative. His previous picture, Bethlehem, also premiered here in 2013.
You’d say that’s not bad to have a two-film career currently and both showing at a prestigious festival, but how prestigious is his new movie?
From the title alone, audience may come to think that this film has all the pleasures of an espionage film. Suspense, action, complex human stories and perhaps a few gadgets… wrong. The Operative doesn’t really delve that far into being an out and out spy thriller, but as much as a lukewarm drama.
We join the movie two-thirds from the end where Martin Freeman (yes, Tim from The Office) plays Thomas, a British handler currently living in Germany and running a section of the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad. Alongside Thomas, is a rootless operative named Rachel (played by Dine Krueger) who speaks many languages and has a colourful past that sees her willing to keep on the move. The narrative uses flashbacks to show Thomas sending Rachel into Teheran for a mission, disguised as an English tutor. She’s actually there to infiltrate an electronics firm who are supplying hi-tech equipment to the Iranian government. However, she gets a little too intimate with the boss, Farsad, for her employers liking.
What ensues is a long-drawn out drama of peaks and troughs, with very few peaks and too many troughs. There’s so much not explored here that it just doesn’t warrant a two-hour run time. She lies about being adopted for some reason, she keeps mentioning her biological father with no real explanation to his non-existence, she ends up on a random separate mission that comes to nothing and she also nearly has a breakdown for killing a security guard – she is meant to be a killing-machine!
I feel Adler uses the shift between time zones as a way to cut this film up, or perhaps make it interesting. The opening scene is actually present-day, and as I mentioned two-thirds through the film, and the rest of the movie is all served in monotonous recollections. It’s just all a bit bland to be labelled as a spy thriller. If you would have told me this is a drama about love in abnormal circumstances, I’d have probably believed you… But it doesn’t sell as well does it?
On the whole, it’s a little too dull and melodramatic for the talent on screen, and it’s far too long to tell a fascinating story. There’s barely any mission action or even just simple tension. Whilst Krueger is as ever adored by the camera here, she only does the bare minimal. But in reality, it’s not her fault, there’s too much narrative left unwritten.
Cineroom’s rating: 2.5 stars
The Operative is yet to be picked up by a UK distributor. It will be released later in the year worldwide.