Espionage is a crime under legal code in many countries if not in every one of them. This is why as soon as someone becomes a spy, that individual, apart from many other things, puts his own life on the line. But that is what needs to be done, perhaps, to promote the country’s interests in different regions for whatever reason. Therefore, having a mini-series about the legendary Israeli spy Eli Cohen could promise, if nothing more, an enjoyable ride into history. However, was it captured in the way it happened during the years of him being active is a question we simply can’t answer and this series most certainly can’t deliver factual events in full capacity even if it had that intention in the first place.
Eli Cohen (Sacha Baron Cohen) dreams to provide a better life to his beloved wife, Nadia (Hadar Ratzon Rotem). Working in a low salary job prevents him from fulfilling his dream, so he agrees to work for Mossad and undergoes months of training to become a field agent, a spy. To establish his cover, he becomes a businessman, takes the alias of Kamel Amin Thaabet, and moves to Argentina. Later on, he goes to Syria where he develops a close relationship with the Syrian political and military hierarchy while secretly sending all the gathered intelligence to Israel. This continued on till 1965 until the moment when he was uncovered and executed for espionage.
When the series begins, we find Eli Cohen heavily beat up and fingers covered in blood while an elderly Chief Rabbi of Syria pays his last visit before Cohen’s execution. This is when we are taken back to the early 1960s when Dan Peleg finds Eli Cohen’s name and begins his test to see whether Eli Cohen is qualified to become a spy. As we watch Cohen from that very moment, we see the twinkling of light in his eyes, determination, and willingness to do whatever it takes to get that job. Keeping the nature of his new job secret from Nadia, the man continues passing all the tests and gets the blessing from his wife, not realizing he is soon going to become a legendary figure for Israel who will be remembered forever for his big contribution.
While the series is an excellent watch, the biggest shortcoming is its writing. Whether it was intentional or not, certain scenes are very difficult to watch, as we find Eli Cohen purposely putting in danger his own cover by doing reckless things. Whether the real Eli Cohen did the same is highly unlikely but this film tried to not only present him as a sympathetic figure but also as someone who always wanted to prove to his country that he is worthy. While we as the audience are getting mesmerized by Cohen’s eagerness for self-sacrifice, we soon become worried for him after sensing an imminent threat coming his way which he, sadly, never realizes. At least this is how it has been captured in “The Spy”.
Sacha Baron Cohen has always been my last choice to watch anything he is in, however, when it comes to the cinematic world, I understood the importance of remaining objective and give the series a shot. To my great surprise, Sacha Baron Cohen is absolutely brilliant as Eli Cohen, delivering a goose-bump inducing performance by staying in character throughout. He embodies the legendary figure by leaving his own persona hidden from the camera. It’s an absolute joy watching the transformative performance from the British actor who, I must admit, was much better than you all can imagine.
As for “The Spy”, it’s intriguing and smart but with its flaws. As I already noted above, it has certain things that are hard to believe but overall it manages to paint the image of a man remembered by his country as one of the best spies. The series doesn’t hesitate in going beyond its abilities to show us the life of a spy that may look like fun but is full of imminent danger.