Review: DIARY OF A SPY, An Intimate & Provocative Thriller
The movies have not exactly given us a realistic portrayal of the life of a spy; the kind of action we see from characters such as James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hunt is rare in real life, and an article I read several years (unfortunately I cannot locate it now) described what amounted to mostly tedium and boredom, as most spies just spend time gathering information, often taking ages, since they must do it without getting caught.
But then there is another, unspoken side, one that can have serious consequences of the emotional kind: the personal relationships built on deception, and what happens when a certain line is crossed. Diary of a Spy looks a just such as story. Inspired by true events, Adam Christian Clark's third feature is an atypical spy story, one that looks for something different in the shadows: the fragile human heart that would trade cruelty for comfort in a harsh world.
Anna (Tamara Taylor) is a disgraced spy: after living in Saudi Arabia for several years, all other members of her cell have been killed, and the blame (deserved or not) has fallen on her. Having squandered her salary on various addictions and having no other skills, she agrees to take on a job that will guarantee comfort for the rest of her life: develop a intimate relationship with Camden (Reece Noi), the tutor of Saudi princess Fatma, and gather intel. Camden is somewhat emotionally stunted when it comes to romance, and harbours secrets of his own; Anna is extremely damaged and perhaps doesn't shield herself as well as she should from access to her vulnerability.
You could call this an intimate thriller, but both of those labels are used and felt to quite an intensity. As every move she makes and every word she says must be carefully considered and calculated, Anna cannot afford any mistakes; and yet, she wavers in her performance, even if Camden doesn't realize that is what's happening. Even Anna can't seem to see where her persona ends and herself begins; her trauma is a constantly tearing armour she can't help but wear.
It feels like most of the story takes place at night, and whether it's just the two of them in a car, or sitting beside each other in a busy nightclub, their loneliness in the shadows is palpable; indeed, the shadows and darkness seems to accentuate that loneliness, and each of Anna and Camden's vulnerabilites. While the reasons for spying are never exactly clear, what is clear is that they will not be saved by these acts, and as they grow closer, their only chance might be to save each other.
The intensity of these emotions is impossible to contain, and Taylor especially walks this knife edge with precision: we can see the weariness, the frustration, the anger, seepy out of her as she tries to maintain control and complete her job. Noi likewise is taught as a bowstring as he navigates his character's vulnerability. This is an unpleasant world for people such as him, and Anna has lost any comfort she might have previously felt.
Clark draws out the story with tension and a sombre mood that shows this darker and more emotionally fraught side of the spy business. Diary of a Spy takes us into this dark, dangerous world via a often neglected side door, probing this story with observations on human vulnerabiltiy and the price of exploiting it.
Diary of a Spy will release on VOD in North American on July 14th.
Full disclosure: Founder and editor Todd Brown works with XYZ Films, which is the distributor of this film. However, he was not involved in the writing or editing of the review.
Diary of a Spy
- Adam Christian Clark
- Adam Christian Clark
- Madeline Zima
- Tamara Taylor
- Susan Sullivan