“The dirtiest of actions have to be carried out by the most honest men”
Michael Bar Zohar, Author and Mossad Agent
In one of the scenes in “The Spy”, the main protagonist Eli Cohen is being tested for his capability to identify people in a crowd by Mossad. Eli (Sacha Baron Cohen) identifies the two given subjects but his boss tells him to work harder as he seems to have identified the wrong subjects. He then turns to the subjects and tells them that they have been identified by Eli and they need to avoid being sloppy. This extraordinary control over training where merit is acknowledged rarely is the philosophy of Mossad in “The Spy”. These stringent and difficult training methodologies go on to create one of the biggest coups in the Syrian-Israeli conflict of 1967. And Eli lead this transformational phase of Israel almost singlehandedly. “The SPY” tells the story of Eli Cohen, Mossad and Syrian conflict with Israel which coincided with the “Six Day War” between the Arab states of Jordan, Syria and Egypt with Israel.
The Spy is a 6 part mini series produced by Netflix and OCS based on the book “The Spy Who Came From Israel” by Uri Dan . It is written and directed by Gideon Raff (The Red Sea Diving Resort). The series stars Sacha Baron Cohen in the role of Eli Cohen and has leading American actor Noah Emmerich as Dan Peleg as his boss at Mossad. In addition, a host of middle eastern actors including Alexander Siddig (star of “Syriana”) feature in the series. Eli’s wife Nadia Cohen is played by Israeli star Hadar Ratzon. THE SPY is now streaming in India.
The Plot of “The Spy”
The Spy tells the story about the life and times of Mossad agent Eli Cohen whose undercover work earned a major victory for Israel against the Arab states.The show goes into how Eli is recruited by Mossad from the field. And how he turns from a reserved, devout and conservative Israeli from the army to a top rate spy who infiltrates the upper echelons of the Syrian government and military. The story also focuses in exhaustive detail on how Mossad as an intelligence agency functions and trains its own agents. There is also major attention on the love story between Eli and Nadia which chronicles their personal lives as well as professional pursuits. Eli builds a matchless cover and is able to win trusts of the army officials which lead to his elevation as Deputy Minister Of Defense. The script also looks at the close shaves of Eli when his cover is about to be blown and how Mossad intervenes to his rescue. The Spy is a tribute to how Mossad and its agents have built an enviable intelligence network all over the globe.
The Character Of Eli Cohen
Sacha Baron Cohen who is largely scene as a comedian in his avatars as Ali-G, Borat, The Dictator has done a total transformation into an effortless, nuanced and emotionally measured actor who can pull off a top rate spy like Eli Cohen. There is a scene in the show where he gifts away his Gold Rolex watch to a border policemen so that they don’t check his baggage. In this scene, he never shouts or howls but very systematically and slowly changes the point of conversation and quickly gauges how to turn the odds against him. Eli who is an attractive man gets invited by various women at different intervals who want to be close to him. But he like a devout Jew manages to stay close only to Nadia who is far away from him. Its this restraint which is the hallmark of Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance in The Spy. His clothes, his mannerism fits him well and he is able to convince most of the people around him that he is a Syrian and wealthy enough to further the cause of his country. Eli also is human , he gets scared, he gets sloppy and yet he holds on to himself. The beauty of the story is that Eli is surrounded by threats to his life 24 hours a day. And yet he thrives, its this cat and mouse chase in which he is running against himself is what makes the narrative very strong. The look and feel of Sacha Baron and his choice of clothes makes him look like James Bond in bits and pieces.
Mossad and its culture
The Spy in many ways is a tribute to the culture of Mossad. One cannot run away from the fact that Israel has defeated the Arab states many times and have held onto their own in a hostile neighborhood. The war which happened after Eli’s operation was caught was one comprehensively by Israel after they took control of the Golan Heights. In “The Spy”, Gideon Raff shows Mossad as a “high on logic/capability and a relatively no frills operation” rather than intelligence agencies with a super sophisticated machinery. Mossad operates in regular offices, works through safe houses and more importantly depends totally on the dedication of its agents/employees. The first encounter between Eli and Dan Peleg is especially where he is dismissed as a novice. But as he rises in stature and work, Mossad bosses take notice and start acting on his information. In one of the scenes in the show, Israel sends bomber planes to destroy a top secret facility of “Shallal”. Eli who is with the President, takes control and shifts him into safety. Although, the information on the bombing sites is provided by Eli in the first place. There is also a strange equation between Dan and Nadia where he ultimately tells her the truth about Eli and they request for his release from the Syrian government.
Apart from Sacha Baron Cohen, Hadar Ratzon as Nadia steals the show. Her job as a helper and nanny at an influential family home is just outstanding. The pressure of pregnancy and her undying thirst of being with her husband without wavering off anywhere else is heartfelt. Her personality stands out like a voice of reason in the middle of a bloody conflict. Noah Emmerich as Dan Peleg is very effective as a semi confused handler of Eli. He is given the dual job of facing the wrath from his bosses at Mossad and Nadia at the same time. Alexander Siddig as the security head of General Hafiz is also very good as the Hawk Eye who suspects Eli from the beginning.
I would like to give “The Spy’ a 9 out of 10 for its real world portrayal and tight writing. Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance has to be the centerpiece of this beautiful story.