“You can do good or you can do well, but sooner or later they make you choose.”
This is the choice given to young Will Holloway (Kit Harington) from his former mentor and current antagonist Harry Pearce (Peter Firth). Both men are rogue MI-5 (think British CIA) agents, working together and against each other in this tight British spy thriller based on the BBC series “Spooks.” The heart of “MI-5” is that question: what a government agency and those who work there can and should do. The choice is a stark one.
Corruption and paranoia run all the way up the chain of command, and the twisty, turny plot doesn’t allow for any trustworthy characters. For all the wild stunts and action sequences, it’s one of the most accurate reflections of the current socio-political climate, where government agencies are trying to stay one step ahead of terrorist attacks.
Things kick into gear when an American terrorist, Adem Qasim (Elyes Gabel), breaks out of MI-5 custody during a transport. Harry, suspecting that someone on the inside helped break him out, goes on the run, treasonously connecting and collaborating with Qasim to find the mole. Simultaneously, decommissioned agent Will Holloway is brought in to play both the Harry and MI-5 sides of the fence. They have a lot of personal history, and it only gets more complicated.
However, despite the convoluted plot twists, the themes of terror, government wrongdoing, breaches of trust and insidious corruption ring almost painfully, presciently true. It’s almost a bit too timely to see a film about European terror attacks in the wake of the recent events in Paris, but “MI-5” is representing an undeniable reality, even if it is packaged in a slightly overwrought action-spy thriller.
Harington truly makes a case for himself as a millennial James Bond type — a secret agent in a hoodie instead of a suit. As nimble, youthful foes, he and Qasim seem to have more in common with each other rather than with the stodgy old guard. They’re the new generation, equally as passionate and determined. Harington broods just as well as he does at Castle Black in “Game of Thrones” — but aside from updating his wardrobe, he doesn’t demonstrate much range beyond that.
Original “Spooks” TV director Bharat Nalluri takes the helming duties on the filmed version, and his style is crisp, clean and slick. Several sequences, including an airport scavenger hunt, are clever and suspenseful. Tonally, the film is a bit too over-serious and pompous, without a drop of humor. But, it’s a well-crafted slice of political action-thriller, filled to the brim with topical social commentary.
(At AMC Independence.)
Rated R. Time: 1:44