Spies vs spy movie: Former CIA agents on 'Mission: Impossible - Fallout'
(KUTV) To celebrate the Blu-ray and DVD release of "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" I dropped in at the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. to talk with former Central Intelligence Agents Peter Earnest and Jonna Mendez.
I'm led into a half-dark room. Two sharply dressed strangers sit across from an empty chair. I'm directed to take a seat. There's a bright light in my face and a camera recording my every move, capturing everything I say. I've seen this scene numerous of times. I know how this is supposed to play out.
This time, I'm expected to ask the questions. I ask if there's a horde of agents hidden behind the black curtain that has been set up as a backdrop. They insist that there isn't. I want to trust them, but I can think of a dozen of ways they've taken forensic samples from me in the last 12 hours.
I try to relax, turn the conversation towards movies, something I know a thing or two about.
When I see films that focus on journalism, like "Spotlight," "The Post" or even "Nightcrawler," I tend to be a little more critical because it's a world that I'm very familiar with. I imagine that its the same thing for Earnest and Mendez.
Mendez confesses, "I hate them when they do it wrong. And they mostly do it wrong. So, I mostly don't watch spy films. There have been a couple that I like very much. 'The Americans,' that series that was on TV, I like that very much. But most of the movies I don't like and I basically don't go to spy movies. But I loved ['Mission: Impossible - Fallout'].
"I engage in a greater suspension of disbelief than you do," Earnest counters. "I enjoy films generally. I'll go to a spy movie and if it's reasonably well done and involves real relationships that appear plausible... Or even something that is all action thing... But I can enjoy it for its own sake. It doesn't have to emulate what I did for me to enjoy it. Sure, I can say, 'We wouldn't do this' or 'We wouldn't do that,' but I can enjoy it as a narrative and I can enjoy the cleverness of it."
Mendez amends her statement slightly, she does like films like "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" because they better capture the brain over brawn aspects of real espionage.
"Everything I say though, about those kinds of movies, is disproven by ['Mission: Impossible - Fallout']," Mendez says.
She confesses to having gone to the movie twice. Once with her son and then a second time on her own.
I've always wondered if Hollywood's inventive and frequently outrageous gadgets inspired real spy work.
Mendez surprises me a little with her answer.
"We used to have our case officers who would see something in a movie or on TV and call us the next Monday and say, 'Do we do that? Can we do that? That was a really neat idea. Can you make one of those for us?' There was some of that always in the background.
Earnest says that there's another thing that these films often get right; the double cross. "One of my closest employees turned out to be one of the worst traitors in the history of American intelligence history, Rick Ames."
But trust is the heart of espionage work. Which, in some ways, feels counter intuitive.
"If we don't trust each other, then we're at lost to what to do in any given situation. So trust is a fundamental part of what we are all about," Earnest says.
"And you know, they establish that in the first scene of ['Mission: Impossible - Fallout']. That group, who has worked together before. They've done a lot of things before. They know each other very well and they can anticipate. It's that relationship and the strength of it that sets up the rest of the movie.
"Mission: Impossible - Fallout" is available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and digital HD today.