Old Agent Men
German Film Week 2017
„…a bizarre and funny adventure.“ chilli
Germany 2015. Four very retired, ex-GDR spies, or “Kundschafter des Friedens” as they were officially named, led by the once legendary Jochen Falk, are called on by the German government. Their mission is to rescue the interim president of the divided Republic of Katschekistan, who has been kidnapped by separatists, along with Berlin's official man on the ground, Franz Kern. To keep Jochen and his maybe no longer so crack team under control, all of whom are determined to prove they were treated unfairly by history, they are put under the command of the young and enthusiastic BND agent Paula Kern. But what neither she nor her bosses back at HQ know, Jochen and his friends still have a score to settle with Franz, Paula's father.
Source: German Films Service & Marketing GmbH
From the sparkling, bright music to the sprightly, sharp editing, not to mention the ludicrous plotlines that keep pushing it forward, Old Agent Men does not in any way show interest in wanting to be taken seriously. But that doesn’t mean it has nothing serious to offer: in fact, every character in the film is dead serious, every action in it seems connected to a serious event from the past, and it is from this straight-faced demeanor that it draws much of its humor. And this humor, at its peak, can easily turn into laugh-out-loud entertainment.
Its story is rather straightforward: four retired ex-GDR (German Democratic Republic) spies – i.e. four old men who have long been inactive in their secret agent work – have been tasked to carry out the important mission of rescuing the interim president of the Republic of Katschekistan who has been abducted by separatists. With him is Berlin’s secret agent, its main man on the ground, who also happens to be a colleague of the ex-GDR spies. And as these four men hunt them down, led by the young and feisty BND (Federal Intelligence Service) agent named Paula, they not only get into nasty fights but also find themselves in confrontations with some unresolved issues of the past.
There is no denying how thin and frail the narrative is – how more work is needed to make it more plausible and convincing – but the writer and director Robert Thalheim isn’t after precision or distinction: he is in pursuit of the fun that comes from spoofing a genre, messing with stereotypes, and delivering a comedy starring nostalgic, old men with hang-ups, each of them bearing colorful personalities and quirks that lend the film some verbal fireworks. In almost every sequence, the film shows awareness of its objective to have fun. It may have fallen short on thrill and suspense, but Old Agent Men makes up for its overstated jesting and jerking around.
Imagine the film Red, but with former East German agents and much less bombast, and you’re kind of close to what Old Agent Men delivers. The president of a fictional nation is kidnapped, and German intelligence turns to a bunch of former Stasi agents to help mount the rescue mission. Complicating matters is a personal vendetta between spies, and a secret relating to the younger German agent that’s minding these old men.
What’s weird about the movie is that it never really makes these former spies out to be particularly competent. This makes it pretty hard to root for these characters as they bumble around this mission, their skills talked up but never really shown. It overestimates the cuteness of having these older men trying to pull off a complicated espionage operation. At some point, their repeated failures just stop being endearing, and right up to the very end, the film just never makes a good case for following these characters as heroes.