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The Operative

Movie review by
Danny Brogan, Common Sense Media
The Operative Movie Poster Image
Tense spy thriller has sexual and graphic violence.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 116 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Much of the movie is based around lying and secrecy. Characters question authority, sometimes with good reason. People are used and disposed of without hesitation.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Due to the nature of her work, Rachel must lie about who she really is. She shows great courage in dangerous situations and in a role so often played by men. Thomas initially follows the rules, but later he ignores his bosses and actively tries to obstruct them -- arguably with good reason. Iranian traditions are discussed but rarely followed.

Violence

The violence is sporadic but graphic and there are many tense moments. There is a sexual assault -- a character has a hand placed over their mouth while the other reaches into their underwear. Two people are shot dead in an elevator and a third has their neck broken. A truck crashes -- although it doesn't look serious, a character is hospitalized with internal bleeding. During a nightmare, a character is strangled with a wire and another is smothered with a pillow. A character is injected with a lethal poison, which kills them. Weaponry is smuggled across a border. Some discussion about nuclear bombs. The aftereffects of a bomb -- which killed two children -- are shown on the news. Reference to a mother who died of cancer.

Sex

Some brief sex scenes, including oral sex. Glancing shot of breasts. Character is seen in bra and underwear. A character has an abortion. Short discussion about potential wives not being virgins.

Language

Some strong language, including "goddamn" and variants of "f--k" and "s--t."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink alcohol at a bar and a party, where people are seen drunk and high on drugs. A character is offered ecstasy but declines. A character is seen smoking an unspecified drug from a glass pipe. Characters are regularly shown smoking cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Operative is a slow-burning, but tense, spy thriller that contains occasional graphic violence and a sexual assault. The movie is a based on the Hebrew novel The English Teacher by Yiftach Reicher-Atir and contains some subtitles. Much of the plot involves characters lying about their true identities. While hiding in a truck, Rachel (Diane Kruger) is sexually assaulted when a man puts a hand over her mouth and puts his other hand down her underwear. In one scene, a Mossad agent shoots two people dead in an elevator and then snaps the neck of a third. In another, a character is assassinated after being injected with a deadly poison. There are some brief sex scenes including one in which Farhad (Cas Anvar) performs oral sex on Rachel -- her breasts are briefly seen. She later becomes pregnant but has an abortion. Rachel is offered ecstasy but declines, although other party goers -- who are also drunk -- are said to have taken the drug. Another character is seen smoking drugs from a glass pipe. A number of characters smoke. There is occasional profanity including variants of "f--k" and "s--t," as well as the use of "goddamn."

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What's the story?

In THE OPERATIVE, Rachel (Diane Kruger), an agent for the Israeli national intelligence force, goes missing. The only clue to her whereabouts is a mysterious call she makes to her handler, Thomas (Martin Freeman). Having been undercover as a part of an operation to infiltrate Iran's nuclear program, Thomas must determine what threat Rachel now poses, and to who.

Is it any good?

Although it lacks the fast-paced action of The Bourne movies, The Operative proves just as tense and is perhaps a more realistic portrayal of the life of a spy. Kruger does a fine job as Rachel -- a character whose true nature we are kept guessing throughout. Whose side is she on? Are her feelings for Farhad (Cas Anvar) genuine? It's also refreshing to have a woman playing a role that is so often played by a man. Anvar deserves praise too, seamlessly navigating Farhad's journey from villain to pawn. Freeman's Thomas is primarily the narrator of the piece, retelling events to his increasingly suspicious Mossad colleagues. His strait-laced performance feeling in sink with the mood of the movie.

On a negative note, Rachel's sexual assault feels unnecessary -- a misguided attempt to increase the tension perhaps -- particularly as there are no repercussions, with the assailant, quite literally, just walking away. The movie's conclusion is also likely to divide audiences. But if you're looking for an espionage movie that's more slow-burning than explosive, then The Operative is worth spying.

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