Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
A deep cover spy film starring Martin Freeman (“The Hobbit”) and Diane Kruger (“Inglorious Bastards”) seems like a win on paper, but both of these veterans come across unconvincing in Yuval Adler’s painfully slow and equally forgettable “The Operative.” This is a thriller that forgets the thrills and fails to take creative liberties with its subject matter, forcing the narrative to chug along at a snail's pace.
Freeman plays Thomas, a British Jewish man who lives in Germany residing over a section of the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad. As the title suggests, he recruits an operative played by a noteworthy Kruger with her seductive and crisp fluency in both German and French. She’s the perfect candidate for the job considering she has no romantic ties, hardly any family to speak off, and no friends who would go looking for her.
The mission, should she choose to accept it, has her infiltrating Tehran under the guise of an English teacher (although the film makes it clear she doesn’t speak the native language, it’s an issue that’s never addressed) and is tasked with touching base with a local manager whose powerful electronics firm provides hi-tech equipment to the Iranian military. Her job will be to ensure all the equipment is rigged or sabotaged to bust. In true espionage fashion, she’s only supposed to teach the bumbling manager English, but what generic spy thriller would be complete without the operative having a steamy affair with her subject?
Eventual double crosses happen as her handlers will spare no expense to gain access to this firm, yet “The Operative” takes a strange dive when the film ditches the main objective and suddenly turns Kruger into a smuggler - someone else completely! - late in the third act, driving faulty equipment into Iran from Turkey; a chaotic blunder that results in her being sexual assaulted. It’s a sequence that doesn’t feel complacent with the rest of the picture, and you wonder if the filmmakers set out to make a different film.
Somehow dull and melodramatic at the same time, “The Operative” flourishes when Freeman and Kruger are left to hammer out details and scream about the world, though neither performance ever convinced or hint at their past, so it was hard for me to stay invested in their future. That, and a decision by Adler to frame the film using only flashbacks never enhances the quality of the product, thus cementing “The Operative” as another plain thriller that’ll come and go and probably won’t make a blip on anyone’s radar.