The Reel Review
In a somewhat surprising twist, Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Who Is America?) trades in his comic chops for the way more serious, starring role in this Netflix series about Israel’s most celebrated spy – Eli Cohen.
The six, hour-long episodes trace the Mossad agent’s mind-blowingly successful infiltration within the highest levels of the Syrian government in the early 1960s, including his most well-known achievement – his “gift” of shade-providing Eucalyptus trees atop the concealed Syrian bunkers along the Golan Heights, which, two years after his death, served as markers for Israeli military attacks during their capture of the strategic location during 1967’s Six Day War.
With a compelling score and well-paced script, writer/director Gideon Raff (Homeland, The Red Sea Diving Resort, Prisoners of War) is spot on in capturing the look and feel of the era, as well as Cohen’s cloak and dagger missions and morse code transmissions. Once you get past the head trip that Sacha Baron Cohen actually IS playing a serious character, his performance is actually quite impressive. Hadar Ratzon Rotem (Homeland, Rendition) is also very compelling as his frustrated and long-suffering wife, Nadia. The show’s pacing dips a bit in the midsection with some unnecessary sub-plots (namely, his Mossad handler’s romantic obsession with Nadia), but overall the series is an entertaining, and mostly-accurate story about Israel’s most famous spy.
• Cohen’s daughter Sophie Ben-Dor, who was four when her father was executed, says it hurt to watch The Spy but that Sacha Baron Cohen did a good job portraying her father. Eli Cohen’s widow, Nadia, continues her fight to have Syria return her husband’s remains to her in Israel.
• In 2018, Israel’s Mossad was able to retrieve Eli Cohen’s wristwatch from Syria and returned it to his family.
• Former Syrian President Amin al-Hafiz, who died in 2009, said he never met Eli Cohen in Argentina and that the office of Syrian Deputy Defense Minister did not exist. The position of Chief Advisor to the defense minister did exist, however – a position Eli Cohen claimed to have achieved.
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