Yuval Adler’s spy thriller, The Operative, turns on Israel’s shadow war with Iran, its strongest and most resourceful enemy. Now available on the Netflix streaming service, it stars Diane Kruger as a Mossad agent who’s sent to Tehran to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.
An Israeli-German co-production, this somber film unfolds in Germany, Israel and Iran in a series of flashbacks about the espionage mission of Rachel Currin (Kruger). Half-Jewish by birth, she’s a rootless person who was raised as a Christian by her German mother and who briefly lived in Canada. Although she feels most at home in Israel, she lives in Germany.
The movie starts with a phone call taken by Thomas (Martin Freeman), a British Jew and Mossad operative who was Rachel’s handler during her sojourn in Iran. He and Rachel had a complicated relationship, but they worked well together.
Rachel goes undercover to Tehran as an English and French teacher. She’s apprehensive about her dangerous assignment, but determined to remain unruffled and unafraid. Kruger, an American German actress who speaks idiomatic English, skillfully portrays Rachel as a dedicated and resourceful agent.
From almost the outset, the film exudes a sense of dread. Tehran is a city of secrets, as one Iranian man says, and Rachel’s job is fraught with pitfalls. As she stands in an elevator, an assassin shoots a man and a woman and vanishes. Despite this most unsettling incident, she likes Tehran and enjoys exploring its neighborhoods.
The third central character in The Operative is Farhad (Cas Anvar), the president of a successful Iranian electronics company whose products are bought by Iran’s intelligence services. Farhad, whose child is enrolled in the school where Rachel teaches, insinuates himself into Rachel’s life on the pretext of his desire to improve his spoken English. Rachel and Farhad are attracted to each other and soon become lovers. It’s debatable whether they can sustain their romance, given their clashing backgrounds and loyalties.
It’s impossible to ascertain whether Rachel gives herself to Farhad solely because of his company’s ties to Iran’s government. But Rachel’s affair with Farhad does not stop her from carrying out her duties with professionalism. Thinking that an attendant at Farhad’s factory has grown suspicious of her, she disposes of him. When Rachel informs Thomas of the murder, he responds with a flippant observation: “This is war, and in war innocent people die.”
Rachel knows he’s right, but she can’t accept the spare ruthlessness of his comment. Is she really cut out for this line of work?
The question is answered, in part at least, when she undertakes a related mission to smuggle defective and bugged nuclear equipment into Iran from a neighboring country. The hard and alien men she meets somewhere in a forboding desert look like enemies rather than friends. And one of them sexually molests her as they conceal themselves in a truck.
The film moves along at a fairly rapid pace, but the storyline is sometimes vague and fuzzy. These flaws weaken it, diluting its suspense, but The Operative is still passable fare.