Rogue Agent, 2022.
Directed by Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson.
Starring Gemma Arterton, James Norton, Marisa Abela, Sarah Goldberg, Shazad Latif, Freya Mavor, Rob Malone, Julian Barratt, Edwina Findley, Jimmy Akingbola, Charlotte Avery, Michael Fenton Stevens, Simon Chandler, Melissa Collier, Philip Wright, Matthew Douglas, Peter Heenan, Michael Drake, and Martin Walsh.
The extraordinary and chilling story of career conman Robert Freegard who masqueraded as an MI5 agent and fooled people into going into hiding, and the woman who fell for him, and then brought him down.
There’s a cult for everything. Inspired by actual events (and coming from the directing duo of Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson, both of whom share screenwriting credits with Michael Bronner), Rogue Agent centers on Robert Freegard (a calculatingly manipulative James Norton) assuming multiple aliases and faking his way through convincing certain people that he is an MI5 agent.
Like a shark smelling blood, Robert selectively chooses his targets, which are generally individuals leading boring lives or vulnerable in some way (there are some highly deplorable acts involving antidepressants), as they are more quickly to believe his stories and fall under a brainwashing spell about potentially becoming spies and getting in the field to thwart 90s Irish bombing attacks on London.
After a prologue briefly showing off his hypnosis (with some narration from one of his victims breaking down the ease with which he makes connections through eye contact and charm), the small group finds themselves on the run and following Robert as Rogue Agent flashes forward just under a decade later, with their leader now working as a car salesman. Litigation lawyer Alice Archer (Gemma Arterton) stumbles into an interaction with Robert, initially turning down his advances for a date, quickly caving due to his charismatic persistence.
Somewhat to a fault, Rogue Agent is more concerned with Robert’s seduction of Alice, easing her suspicions (she has friends in high places that easily deduce that he gave her a ghost name) and warped manipulation into using negative stories about him as a means for his agency to ensure that his partners are loyal to him, subsequently meaning they can be trusted around his “mission details” (especially if something goes wrong). Far more unsettlingly fascinating is a young woman named Sophie (Marisa Abela), who has been under Robert’s spell for roughly nine years, carrying out fake field operations that only benefit him.
The idea that someone, let alone multiple people, can follow these orders and consistently believe that they are a part of a spy organization without anything beneficial to show for it (and cutting themselves off from their previous lives, but not before convincing parents to hand over large sums of money) is baffling in a manner that should have been the core dynamic of the narrative, rather than a long look at the beginning stages of this con.
However, this questionable storytelling approach doesn’t sink the film considering the chemistry between James Norton and Gemma Arterton is solid; several sequences showcase just how good Robert is at telling lies and thinking on his feet to spin the story around his favor. As such, it’s hard to fault Alice for falling for the deception, although the script also knows when it’s time to pull back and for her to smarten up.
There’s also the gripping, seemingly unbelievable actual crime aspect to this real-life tale, which only makes the unfolding events hit harder (and there are quite a few disturbing reveals about Robert’s life). Rogue Agent becomes much more involving once the mask comes off Robert, little by little demonstrating how evil he is and how he can always go one horrifying step further.
A sharper and more insightful script would focus on the victims and perhaps put in a bit more effort to analyze what made Robert a monster, beyond surrendering to the idea that some people are just plain wrong. Still, Rogue Agent is compulsively watchable and a frightening slice of dramatized true crime (with some infuriating but somehow not surprising closing nuggets of information).
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com