March 23, 2022

Movie Review: The Operative (Yuval Adler, 2019)

The Operative is an adaptation of the novel The English Teacher by Yiftach Reicher-Atir. Reicher-Atir is a former Israeli army commando (he led part of the force during the 1976 raid on Entebbe) and commander of the army’s special operations directorate.


Some of the reviews label the author as a former intelligence officer, however, given his long career as a special operations soldier, I believe he has had exposure to many intelligence operations, but is not an intelligence officer himself. That would explain some of the tradecraft missteps in the film.


The movie stars Diane Kruger, Martin Freeman, and Cas Anvar. I think Kruger and Anvar were quite credible in their roles. Freeman, a skilled actor with a long list of credits, was badly miscast in this role as a British Jew and Mossad case officer. Watching him in that role required quite a bit of suspension of disbelief. (That is what fiction requires – that you are able to enjoy the story even though you know it is not only untrue but sometimes unbelievable.)


The film revolves around a Mossad operation to place an operative (Kruger) in Tehran to meet an Iranian electronics dealer (Farhad, played by Anvar), with the goal to eventually recruit him. I’ll not spoil the experience for you if you choose to watch it.


Most of the tradecraft is fine, if a bit elementary. The missteps are quite obvious to the trained eye, however. The use of two legends simultaneously is dangerous if not impossible, the clumsy use of easily detectable electronic communications, and the strange side operation to smuggle explosives into Iran via Turkey – puzzling at best, unnecessary at worst.


I still wonder how Rachel (Kruger’s character) was supposed to make initial contact with her target, but I guess I will have to find the book and read it – it has recently been translated into English.


Bottom line: for all its minor flaws, it’s still a good story. It shows a side of the intelligence business not often seen – the toll of operational life on the people who do this for a living. It can be extremely stressful. Trust me.


Watch it on Netflix.