Sunday, September 08, 2019

  • Sunday, September 08, 2019
  • Elder of Ziyon

Netflix' "The Spy," based on the life of famed Israeli spy Eli Cohen, is a very good miniseries.

Sacha Baron Cohen is excellent in the lead role of an Israeli born in Egypt (to Syrian parents)who joins the Mossad to spy on Syria. He is convincing as his cover persona, a charismatic Syrian businessman born in Argentina, Kamel Amin Thaabet. Cohen  gathers incredible information before being caught in 1965.

The direction is excellent. Nearly all of the scenes ring true. Bat Yam, where Cohen's family is, looks exactly right. This brief scene of Syria showing photos of Nasser as a bathing beauty in 1962 after Syria split from the United Arab Republic in Egypt is a small example of the attention to detail in the production.

I admit that I don't understand the decision to film all the Israeli sections in washed out colors. Perhaps it was to emphasize a forgettable theme of Cohen not being able to distinguish between his real life and the glamorous life of Thaabet.

The Israeli psyche and that of the Mossad members in the film ring true. There is no tendency to retell the story through the lens of 2019 wokeness. (Discrimination against Mizrahi Jews in Israel is touched upon but that was very real in the 1960s.)

Osama Bin Laden's father is there in subplot about Syrian plans to dry up the Kinneret that is largely true but that Bin Laden had nothing to do with (with a cameo of Osama himself as a boy). Saddam Hussein and Yasir Arafat are mentioned.

There are some inconsistencies that hurt the series. In the first episode, when Cohen is trained to be a spy, he is shown to be excellent at noticing if he is being followed; but in episode 2 when he is in Buenos Aires he doesn't notice he is being followed by a startlingly incompetent security officer. As Thaabet, he is a teetotaler in episode 2 but drinks in episode 6. (The real Cohen threw large parties where he would pretend to be drunk to listen to high ranking Syrians reveal secrets.)  Episode 6 itself, where he gets caught and is executed, is a little muddled as it jumps between three timelines.

Of course, some parts are clearly fictional and meant to add tension. Eli Cohen does some extremely risky things that don't make sense. This is Hollywood and they need to play up the spy part. The real Cohen also took on many lovers in Syria from powerful families as part of his ruse; in the series he is chaste as Thaabet.

Even though we know the ending from the beginning, this is a really excellent drama about a true Israeli hero who saved countless lives.

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 14 years and 30,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.


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