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It can start with a low-level FBI agent assigned to the graveyard shift in the White House monitoring a phone that rarely rings. Or it could be a CIA newbie who’s handed a pile of files that no one else can be bothered reading and discovers an overlooked email that threatens the organisation. Or it might be a carriage full of spies erupting into a shootout on a train speeding through the Italian alps.
Whatever the set-up, with a selection of recent espionage thrillers, it serves as an introduction to a world where it’s impossible to know who can be trusted and danger lurks everywhere. There are nefarious forces hovering in the shadows, powerful people with plenty of money, and they’re plotting to control the world.
Noah Centineo as Owen Hendricks in a scene from the series The Recruit.Credit: Philippe Bossé/Netflix via AP
In addition to these scenarios – which relate respectively to The Night Agent (Netflix), The Recruit (Netflix) and Citadel (Amazon Prime) – there’s also Rabbit Hole (Paramount+). Its set-up involves John Weir (Kiefer Sutherland), the smoothly confident head of a sophisticated sting ring. Weir sees himself as a modern-day Robin Hood, orchestrating elaborate ruses to take down corrupt corporate kings. Then he finds himself a target and, as in the other series, a murderous game of cat-and-mouse begins.
With varying degrees of accomplishment, this batch of thrillers is jam-packed with suspense and surprises. Someone is always chasing something – a suitcase, a hard drive, an informant – and with each discovery comes a fresh twist to keep the plot rollicking along.
Aptly titled, Rabbit Hole spirals into increasingly complicated conspiracies. It takes its paranoid contention that someone is always watching to almost hysterical heights and gets tiresome pretty fast. Sutherland delivers another of his stressed-man-on-the-run performances as he finds himself hunting an alleged evil genius.
Kiefer Sutherland is on the run hunting down an alleged evil genius in Rabbit Hole.Credit: Marni Grossman/Paramount+
Citadel arrives with a big budget, reportedly $300 million for six-episodes, and aspirations to make a big impact. Relying on the charisma and chemistry of Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas as a once-entangled pair of super-spies, it’s a slick mix packed with snappy dialogue. But the template is evident. It’s aiming for the spectacle, scale and jet-setting itinerary of a Bond film. It features the memory-issue conceit of a Bourne adventure, with elite killers who, for a time at least, don’t remember just how skilled they are in the dark arts. Then there’s a dash of Mrs & Mrs Smith with a couple that sizzles, as the opening sequence suggests with a minimum of subtlety. Things might pick up, but the early episodes feel hollow and derivative, resembling a lavishly funded exercise in data-driven box-ticking.
More engaging and satisfying are the Netflix offerings. In The Night Agent, Peter Sutherland (Gabriel Basso), an FBI operative haunted by a scandal in his past and keen to establish his worth, is tapped by the president’s chief of staff, Diane Farr (Hong Chau), to monitor an emergency phone line. There’s the suggestion that he won’t have much to do on his night shift somewhere in the bowels of the White House. But soon after he answers a distress call from Rose Larkin (Luciane Buchanan), the pair is on the run. The founder of a failed cybersecurity firm, Rose proves to be a smart and gutsy partner, not trained at this game but a fast learner with handy skills. She’s also a woman who’ll throw herself into battle at crucial moments. Unlike Citadel, The Night Agent allows the chemistry between its leads to develop, rather than insisting upon it at the outset, and they become an engaging team.
Luciane Buchanan and Gabriel Basso in The Night Agent.Credit: Dan Power/Netflix
Enlivened by welcome and well-judged humour, The Recruit has Noah Centineo as lawyer Owen Hendricks, a new hire at the FBI. The organisation is depicted as a nightmare employer plagued by low morale and staffed by disgruntled employees who’ll readily sabotage each other in order to get ahead. In this version of the bureau, nobody wants to take on cases because they require too much paperwork.
By initially performing well for his impassive, Yoda-like boss (Vondie Curtis-Hall), Owen attracts the ire of a couple of tetchy colleagues (Aarti Mann and Colton Dunn) who conspire to thwart him. There’s not much team spirit in this place, let alone patriotism.
While ploughing through a pile of ostensibly dead-end correspondence dumped on his desk by the aforementioned colleagues, Owen discovers an email from Max Maledze (Laura Haddock), a former Russian agent imprisoned in Arizona. It contains a threat to release information which she claims will expose something rotten at the FBI.
Stanley Tucci as Bernard Orlick in Citadel.Credit: Amazon Prime
Each of these series is boosted by a well-written and strong cast of supporting players. Haddock (The Capture) shines as the canny and manipulative Max: the screen lights up in her scenes. Meanwhile, Owen’s housemates (Fivel Stewart and Daniel Quincy Annoh) lend flavour to his past and as well as his current adventures.
Rabbit Hole also benefits from its supporting players. As Sutherland’s cocky protagonist plunges into confusion, there’s Charles Dance’s firm footing as a sharp-eyed veteran of the spy wars. In The Night Agent, Hong Chau nails the crisply efficient and preternaturally composed presidential powerbroker. And while Citadel has its problems, Stanley Tucci and Lesley Manville are a definite plus. He’s in typically fine form as a mastermind of the good-spy network that gives the series its title, while she’s a ruthless agent of the nasty-spy outfit, Manticore, who’ll coolly order a hit while tending to her roses.
Citadel has arrived boasting Amazon Prime’s own hopes for global domination in the form of an international franchise: off-shoots from Italy and India are already under way. Meanwhile, The Night Agent and The Recruit have happily been green-lighted for second seasons, although no announcement has been made on the future of Rabbit Hole.
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