Spider in the Web

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday August 30, 2019

'Spider in the Web'
'Spider in the Web'  

When an older Moussad operative on the verge of disgrace is assigned a fresh-faced, moody partner for what may be his last mission — and his last chance at redemption — layers of deceit, manipulation, and painful truths begin to accumulate and unravel. But which strands in this web are real, and which the work of master deceivers?

Ben Kingsley plays the older operative, Avram Adereth, who has long worked in Brussels under the cover name Simon. Adereth's main source of intel is a Syrian general (Makram Khoury). As both men drift toward old age and retirement, the general's tidbits of information become less urgent; Adereth's handlers, displeased, send Samuel (Itzik Cohen) to confront Adereth. The timing is inauspicious, since the general has just handed Adereth his best tip in years: A contact that might provide proof that the Belgian government is working to provide the Syrians with chemical weapons.

Unconvinced, Adereth's superiors allow him to work the new information, which identifies an idealistic young woman named Angela (Monica Bellucci), an ecological advocate who also happens to work for a major chemical company called Virobe. But Mossad higher-ups also saddle Adereth with a babysitter in the form of Daniel (Italy Tieran), a perpetually angsty young agent whose father was, before his untimely death, Adereth's closest friend... or so Adereth tells the young man. What Daniel seems to believe coming into the assignment is that Adereth is a corrupt old man who sold his father out.

While Daniel is the sort to go by the tradecraft book, Adereth is much looser about protocol and pre-approved parameters of operation, a style that's informed as much by his many years of expertise as by his command of many fields of knowledge — everything from the spy thriller genre to good cognac to pea soup. Adereth also knows how to read people, and has no problem in winning the trust and admiration of anyone who crosses his path. Daniel is a harder nut to crack than most, but even he ends up firmly on Adereth's side.

More difficult still is the highly skeptical Angela, whose work is fraught with corporate espionage; she's less apt to fall for the governmental brand of spy craft than others might be. Still, Adereth works his charms on her and she begins to fall for him. Daniel, working on the margins of the blossoming romance, sets up elaborate cons designed to secure Angela's trust and lure her into a fictitious cel of ecoterrorists. Once "recruited" for the fictional terrorist group, Angela can be used to secure the sensitive evidence that will put Virobe's corporate head in the noose.

It's a long con, with a rocky, corpse-strewn road, and it seems to lead to an unsatisfactory destination... until Adereth digs a little deeper. Or is the wily older agent only playing one more confidence game on friend and foe alike?

Director Eran Riklis, working from a script by Gidon Maron and Emmanuel Naccache, relies on sheer momentum and fuzzy plotting to keep the story in motion. The characters are just as fuzzy as the storyline, their motives and shifting emotional states kept mostly under the surface but not well signaled. Kingsley manages to overcome these difficulties; in his hands, the road of Adereth slows comes into focus, revealing him to be a man both lonely and regretful, simultaneously desperate to grasp a final chance for love and unable to stop playing the games he's made a life out of.

But Kingsley is the outlier here. Tiran mostly relies on his youthful good looks and a perpetual scowl. Even when the script hands his characters pivotal moments, it feels like he's kept Daniel too tightly under wraps for the character to fully make sense. Bellucci's Angela is written with such broad, predictable strokes — and such inapt affect — that she's practically wasted; she has a big reveal or two that simply glide in and then glide out of the story once more, practically without any narrative.

There are good spy movies out there — there are even good, or at least entertaining, movies about the Mossad, and about the intersection between big business and authoritarian regimes. "A Spider in the Web" gets too wrapped up in its own sticky elaborations to qualify.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.