There’s something to be said for the evolution of an actor and in the latest Netflix Original “Limited Series” The Spy, Sacha Baron Cohen emerges as a butterfly.
The actor is best known for his controversial roles in films such as Ali-G, Bruno and The Dictator but The Spy presents Cohen as something else – a serious actor.
The series was released on 6th September and we could not stop watching it until we reached the end.
The series tells the story of Eliyahu Ben-Shaul Cohen, an Israeli spy who established close relationships with the Syrian military, politicians and other powerful people in the state for four years.
We meet Cohen in Israel where he’s working a regular desk job. We soon learn however that Cohen has lofty ambitions, chief among which is working for his government as a spy.
The opening episodes do well to establish the relationship between Cohen and his wife Nadia (Hadar Ratzon Rotem). Their apartment is small and we see them eating nothing but bread and tea for dinner but it’s quickly established that the pair have an unconditional love for one another.
We are also introduced to key members of Mossad that will serve as anchor points throughout the show.
Things take a sharp turn when Cohen is approached by Mossad to become a spy for his country.
It’s at this point that the entire story is flipped on its head. The once loving caring nature of Cohen is barely visible as the wealthy and privileged alter-ego, Kamel Amin Thaabet takes over from Cohen. That’s not to say Cohen doesn’t care, he does but he’s a lot more tactful in how he does it, as a spy should be.
Despite rubbing shoulders with his enemies, Cohen remains loyal to his cause. In one harrowing scene Cohen as Thaabet is told to gun down civilians in Israel. The spy, visibly shaken is relieved when he is told to step away from the weapon. This one scene tells us all we need to know about Cohen, he’s willing to do terrible things, but not things that will put his nation and its people in danger.
Something must also be said about the cinematography.
The visuals are gorgeous and the use of filters to portray different moments in time is done very well and is subtle enough to not detract from the pacing of the story, in fact there are moments where that filter change aids the pacing.
Above that, the writing is superb. While we were on the side of Cohen and Israel most of the time, that didn’t stop us from thinking about the innocent Syrians caught in the middle of the conflict. The dialogue between characters also never feels fruitless or needlessly exposing plot points which we very much appreciate.
For those that know the story of Eli Cohen you will know how this series ends, for those that don’t well we won’t spoil the ending. We will however say that despite his crimes against his friends as Thaabet, those people cared about him deeply and for good reason.
Even when he’s hosting a party that becomes an orgy, Cohen’s core morals and values remain. He is unable to cheat on his wife or even feel emotion for another woman aside from disgust at his behaviour. He cares about his friends, but ultimately what we see is that Cohen cares for his country.
This comes to the fore toward the end of the series as Cohen makes several silly mistakes as he tries to remember who Eli Cohen is.
The stars of this series are Cohen and Rotem who we’d love to see even more of in productions such as this. Netflix, you did well with this one.
The Spy then is not just a tale of espionage but the human cost of conflict and the sacrifices those on the front lines make in the name of freedom and patriotism, including their identity.
The mini-series is only six episodes long but it will leave a lasting impression on you. If you can only binge watch one thing this week, make it The Spy.
[Image – David Lukacs]