Pros: the idea of filming the life of Eli Cohen; exciting script; unexpectedly good acting by Sacha Baron Cohen Cons: the color rendering in the frame is sometimes confusing The Spy
Creators Gideon Raff, Max Perry
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen (Eli Cohen), Hadar Ratson Rotem (Nadia Cohen), Yael Eitan (Maya), Noah Emmerich (Den Peleg), Nassim Si Ahmed (Maazi), Morad Zaoui (Benny), etc.
Year of release 2019
The Spy focuses on several years in the life of a real-life man named Eli Cohen. He was born into a Jewish family who emigrated to Egypt from the Syrian city of Aleppo. In adulthood, Cohen moved to Israel, where he married and worked as an accountant in a department store. At the same time, Eli dreamed of getting a job in the foreign intelligence service Mossad. Peaceful life could not supplant his memories of the times when he participated in the operation to move Jews from Egypt to Israel.
The series begins with short episodes from 1965. In order to understand what is happening, the scriptwriters show events 6 years before. The Syrians open fire on Israeli territories, the country is in danger. Mossad wants to prevent attacks, so it is looking for someone who can become an intelligence officer on the Syrian side. Eli Cohen turns out to be a suitable candidate – he speaks foreign languages, and because of his appearance he is often mistaken for an Arab. Cohen immediately begins a program that teaches him the basic skills of a spy. After this, Mossad plans to send Eli to Argentina, where he can establish connections in Arab society. Once abroad, the hero will have to impersonate a wealthy businessman with the fictitious name Kamil Amin Taabet, who wants to move to Syria and supposedly provide support to the local army.
The showrunner of the series is director Gideon Raff. He wrote the script for the Israeli series Hatufim, which tells about soldiers who returned from captivity. Later, the popular American TV series Homeland was made based on it.
Gideon Raff based his new series on the biography of a man with whom all modern Israel is familiar. The director was faced with the difficult task of sticking to the facts without distorting the heroism of Eli Cohen, and also showing the emotional component of the intelligence officer’s life. Therefore, the director met with Cohen’s wife, Nadia, who shared her memories of her husband. It’s not for nothing that her line is also in the series; performed by actress Hadar Ratson Rotem, it is shown extremely reverently and excitingly. Raff considers it necessary to emphasize that Cohen, while away from home, still keenly feels the connection with his wife.
Eli Cohen himself is played by his namesake and British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. It’s hard to forget the beginning of Sasha’s career in the 2000s, when he transformed into the character Borat he invented and provoked scandals around himself. Later there were other images, in which Sacha Baron Cohen infuriated both random passers-by and famous politicians. The actor’s antics often balanced on the line between satire, which touched on obvious problems of society, and stupid shockingness. Even while playing more low-key film roles (appearing in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Les Misérables), he continued to pursue a career as a comedian. Due to his specific approach to filming, Sacha Baron Cohen did not take root in the biopic about Freddie Mercury (the members of Queen did not work well with him), but he turned out to be unexpectedly good for the role of the Israeli intelligence officer.
Even if all of Sacha Baron Cohen’s previous projects are irritating, his work on the TV series The Spy completely changes my opinion about the actor. Surprisingly, Sacha Baron Cohen knows how to be serious and appropriate. He manages to show two completely different lives of one hero. On the one hand, this is a simple Israeli and loving family man Eli Cohen, and on the other, a wealthy businessman Kamil Amin Tahabet, whose company is extremely interesting for high-ranking officials. Sacha Baron Cohen gives a human perspective on the double game a spy is forced to play. This is not the all-powerful James Bond, but a professional with honed skills who has his own weaknesses.
It is interesting that the contrast between Eli Cohen’s life in Israel and in Syria is not only the hero’s behavior. Showrunner Gideon Raff figured out how to tell the story with an extra twist – he divided the series into several color transfers. Events taking place in Israel are shown in dull, almost faded colors. But since the transformation of Eli Cohen into Camille Amin Taabeth, more and more saturated colors appear in the frame. This can be confusing at first (considering that one of the bombings on Israel is also painted in bright colors), but over time you get used to such jumps.
Almost at the start of the first episode, Gideon Ruff reveals what Eli Cohen’s espionage activities lead to. This does not harm the series at all; on the contrary, it immerses us even more in a series of events where, in addition to the confrontation between the two countries, there is a human factor. So the involvement in the plot remains even after reading Wikipedia and the denouement shown at the beginning.
Coupled with excellent performances from the cast, each episode of The Spy is equally gripping and concise. All the events in the life of intelligence officer Eli Cohen cannot be contained in a few hours, but what is shown is enough to get into the amazing, albeit sometimes decorated with artistic techniques, story.
The Spy is a well-executed dramatic series in which a real-life person is turned into an interesting character who influenced the course of Israeli history.