The Operative is an espionage thriller that strikes at the heart of a brewing global conflict. A detached woman is recruited by the Israeli Mossad to infiltrate Iran's nuclear weapons program. Based on the Hebrew novel "The English Teacher", by former intelligence officer Yiftach Reicher-Atir, the stark narrative shows the dark and conflicted loyalties of spycraft. The Operative is not a testosterone fueled, 007-esque babes and gadgets fantasy. The film is taut and realistic in parts, but oddly uncompelling overall. The pieces were there for a gripping story, but The Operative leaves the viewer cold.
German actress Diane Kruger stars as Rachel Currin, an Israeli spy that mysteriously went rogue. Martin Freeman co-stars as Thomas, her former handler who was ousted by the Mossad. Thomas receives a call from Rachel after a year of no contact. She speaks in code and hangs up abruptly. When Thomas reports her call to his former colleagues, he's brought in immediately for a secret debriefing at a safe house.
The Operative goes back and forth in time. As Thomas is caught up on Rachel's activities, we learn how she was recruited, her mission in Iran, and the fallout from her supposed success. Rachel was initially sent undercover to Tehran as an English teacher. Her job was simple, observe and report. But her fastidious nature and obvious clandestine talents were then honed for a more dangerous assignment. Rachel targets a wealthy electronics businessman (Cas Anvar). She unwisely falls in love. Endangering the operation and fracturing her belief in the cause.
The Operative is filmed with a lean, matter of fact approach. The accompanying score is scant with ominous sound effects used to build tension. The only music heard is in the background of several scenes. Director/writer Yuval Adler portrays Rachel in a constant state of peril. Diane Kruger's eyes are rigid and alert. Her countenance only eases when Rachel needs to be disarming. One appalling scene in particular shows the sexual threats Rachel is forced to endure. A lone, western woman in places where females are easily subjugated, is an underlying thread throughout. The film's best moments accurately illustrate the incredible risks Rachel took.
Diane Kruger plays Rachel well. She's an excellent actress and does everything required to make the character believable. The problems lie in Yuval Adler's script and his approach to Rachel's motivations. The Operative has Rachel being an outsider from the beginning. She embraces Israel, but is not Jewish. The Mossad questions her heart, but are more than happy with her results. Adler never truly defines why Rachel becomes an operative. Her reasons are muddled. When she begins her affair and suffers regret from the Mossad's lethal methods, the fallout feels contrived. It's hard to imagine someone spying in Iran for Israel without ironclad faith.
The Operative works in its depiction of espionage, and has a good lead performance from Kruger. If only the film capitalized on those better elements. A puzzling third act feels hurried and out of place. The ending is entirely too abrupt. The Operative tackles Israel's intelligence efforts against Iran, but fails to resonate or be insightful. The Operative is available now on demand from Vertical Entertainment.