City of Spies (2022)

Rating: D+

Dir: Philip Moran
Star: Scarlet Sherriff, David Wurawa, Robert Neumayr, Sabine Kristof-Kranzelbinder

21-year-old college student Kindra (Sherriff) has a secret. Her parents were spies, working for a shadowy organization in Vienna. However, one day, she received a message from her mother, saying they would have to go away for a little while. Left to take care of her kid brother, Xavier, Kindra decides to continue working as a spy. It helps that her handler, Hal (Wurawa), had never met her parents face-to-face, with all communication carried out electronically. However, Hal realizes something has changed, and sets out to track down his agent. But he’s not the only person who is trying to find Kindra, and her actions put not only herself, but also Xavier, at increasing risk.

I think the main problem here is that writer-director Moran decided in advance that this was going to be a series of films, following Kindra as she moves through the spy network. As a result, he has spread his plot development far too thinly, obviously intending to save the bulk of it for those future installments. The decision has left this almost terminally short of interesting things that happen. There’s a twist which makes things intensely personal, and really brings home the stakes. However, it doesn’t happen until almost 75 minutes in. This is about an hour later than it should have, in order to give the audience a reason to keep watching. The last quarter of an hour which follows is easily the best part of the movie.

Up to that point, you’ve got a lot of scenes which don’t really appear to serve any purpose (perhaps they pay off in one of those future installments?), and are an awkward mess of tone. For instance, there’s an extended sequence which seems to involve Hal training a new agent, for whom he had unrequited feelings. This appears to be aiming for a comedic approach – it turns out they’re in the wrong house – which does not sit at all well with the gritty and down-to-earth approach other scenes go for. The job of espionage also comes off as almost ridiculously easy: two minutes of chit-chat with a Ukrainian ambassador, and he’s apparently ready to hand over the nuclear launch codes.

Vienna is a nice location, one popular with spy movies going back at least as far as The Third Man, and Moran makes decent use of the urban scenery. Sherriff is reasonably effective as the heroine, with both she and Wurawa coming over as at least plausibly intelligent. It all comes back to the script, and its inability to move forward for far too long. If this had, say, been a six-part TV series, my expectations would have been markedly different, in terms of (the lack of) resolution. However, I was wanting a film which could stand on its own merits, telling a complete story, rather than a 90-minute flick-tease for what’s to come – especially when that’s an uncertain outcome at best. If a sequel ever shows up, I might give it a shot. If it doesn’t, I’ll hardly be heartbroken.