A Film Analysis in Terms of Organizational Behavior Concepts: Spy Game



Term Paper for TRM336 Organizational Behavior

Bogazici University School of Applied Disciplines - Tourism Administration Department

May 2003




Spy Game is an example of action, drama and thriller genre films.  It was released in November, 2001 and its length is 2 hours 6 minutes. It was directed by Tony Scott for Universal Pictures and Beacon Pictures. The main casts of the film are Robert Redford, Brad Pitt and Catherine McCormack. Robert Redford stars as Veteran CIA officer Nathan Muir and Brad Pitt stars as CIA agent Tom Bishop. Catherine McCormack stars as Elizabeth Hadley, girlfriend of Tom Bishop. The tagline of the film is “It is not how you play the game. It is how the game plays you.”. As plot outline, “retiring CIA agent Nathan Muir recalls his training of Tom Bishop and works against agency politics to free him from his Chinese captors”. The movie contains rich material for Organizational Behavior concepts such as individual behavior, organizational culture and structure, motivation, groups, teamwork, leadeship, power and politics, and conflict and stress management.




Spy Game begins with the scene that Tom Bishop enters into a Chinese prison and tries to rescue one person from the prison. However, he is captured while he is going out the prison. Then the scene turns to Nathan Muir, who is a high level CIA employee on the brink of retirement. He is awaken up in the morning with a telephone from Hong Kong CIA spy who tells that his old subordinate Tom has been arrested in China for espionage. This is the time the Cold War is ending. This event occurs just days before the US president is to visit China for trade walks. The newly developing relationships between China and US can be broken up due to this capture. In addition, Tom will be shot in 24 hours unless the president steps in China.


CIA and NSC arrange an immediate task force to decide weather Tom Bishop will be rescued with an operation or he will be left in the Chinese prison or killed in 24 hours not to damage the relationships. Nathan Muir is the man who recruited and trained Tom. CIA wants to gather information about Tom from Nathan at this meeting. Nathan burns the documents about Tom not to give them to CIA but he accepts to tell his past experiences with Tom. After that point the story continues with the flashbacks. Nathan recalls how he recruited and trained Tom and how they worked together.




Nathan and Tom first met in Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. Nathan required a sniper to kill a General of Vietnam Army. Tom was suitable for the task since he worked as police at “Boy Scouts” before he joined the army. Nathan employed Tom for the task and informed him about the operation. Tom reached the operation area with another soldier. However, a risky situation occurred at the beginning of the operation and Nathan ordered them not to shoot, meaning not to complete the operation. Tom did not obey the order and accomplished the task. He also survived the life of his partner who was injured in the operation.


Next, Nathan recalls how he recruited him for CIA after the war and how he trained him as a spy. The training period is told in details in the film.


In the next flash back he recalls the operation in Berlin with Tom. The operation was about finding an insider in CIA. Tom was a small but important piece of the operation. He was responsible for crossing a German man through the borders of the city and this would determine the insider that they suspected since only the suspected person knew this travel. That night while Tom and the German man were on the way Nathan warns Tom by telephone that he determined the insider and she had given information to German police about their travel. Therefore, police was searching the German man to kill and all the passing points had been already held by the police. Tom should immediately have left the man. Tom argued with Nathan on the phone that if he had left the man, the police would have killed him. Tom could not accept the death of the man because he was used only for trapping the insider woman. However, Tom obeyed the orders of Nathan unwillingly.


After the operation Tom and Nathan had an argument about the way that Nathan uses in the operations. He saw the people as assets that can be used or even killed if this would be on behalf of him, operation, or his organization, CIA. The German man was one of those whose life had no importance related to the achievement of the task. Tom was against this opinion and thinking they were responsible for the death of the man. Nathan warned Tom that one day he could be in the same position with the German man if he put the operation in a dangerous situation to survive the lives and nobody including Nathan would try to rescue Tom. At the end of the argument, Tom seemed as accepting the ideas of Nathan.


The last flashback was in Beirut where another operation would be organized for assassination of a man. Tom played a journalist to collect information for CIA and for establishing a relationship with the doctor of the target man. The team had planned to negotiate with this doctor that he would kill the target man by injecting a poison. Doctor was working at a health camp designed by an international health organization. To become closer to the doctor Tom brought health aid to the camp and met Elizabeth who is a voluntary employee in the camp and very close to the doctor. After a while Tom and Elizabeth fell in love with each other. Nathan noticed their relationship and searched the past of Elizabeth. He found out that Elizabeth was a member of a radical organization and she was in the task of bombing a Chinese building in London. China was searching her to arrest. In Beirut she was working as a negotiator for Hizbullah and in return Hizbullah was financing the camp. Nathan considered Elizabeth as a threat for the operation and he tried to break up this relationship. Later on, he exchanged Elizabeth with an American agent prisoned in China.


In Beirut Tom gave Nathan a whisky bottle for his birthday. Nathan asked how Tom found such a whisky bottle and Tom answered that he brought it with the operation “Dinner-out”. Nathan said that he would remember the name of the operation- “Dinner-out”.


During that period, Nathan and Tom achieved to negotiate with the doctor and he accepted to kill the target man with the poison on next Thursday. On that day things did not go as they were planned. An attack occurred toward to the civil public in Beirut and many people were injured. Although doctor should have gone to the target man, he was at the camp for the injured people. Tom lifted the doctor from the camp to the operation place although it was late. Nathan did not want to leave the operation to the chance and he decided to apply the plan B, which was to send a car to the building the target man was at, with full of bombs and with two suicide commandos. At the end while the doctor was successful at entering the building and the man would be killed by poison, the suicide commandos arrives and bombs the full building. 75 people died in the attack with the target man. Tom was shocked psychologically due to the death of people. On the other hand Nathan found the operation successful since the target man was dead. Tom could not accept this event and he decided to separate their ways with Nathan.


This was the last flashback of Nathan. Tom was in the Chinese prison to rescue Elizabeth, who had been reported by Nathan.