The Patriots | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

The Patriots 

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Perhaps the best commercial cinema France has to offer these days, this slickly produced spy thriller explores the moral ambiguities in manipulating lives for the sake of patriotism. At the center of the web of intrigue is the Mossad, Israel's much-feared intelligence service, whose rival chieftains jockey for control. Director Eric Rochant, who also wrote the script, takes the issue of loyalty as the departure point in a sprawling narrative that chronicles the two major assignments of a young operative in the 80s. Ariel, an idealistic French Jew, joins the Mossad after turning 18. For the next four years he learns the tricks of the trade from an ambitious boss, then he's dispatched to Paris to head a team that tries to blackmail an atomic engineer into spying on Baghdad. Rochant neatly details the operation, whose purpose--defending Israel against nuclear threat--Ariel considers noble, and its intricate mechanics are fascinating to watch. But when the story shifts to Washington, D.C., the moral landscape gets murkier. Ariel recruits a Jewish-American intelligence officer--someone as "patriotic" as he is--to share top-secret information on behalf of Israel. The scheme--based on the real-life case of Jonathan Pollard--is eventually exposed; the Mossad, to Ariel's dismay, disavows any involvement, leaving the American agent (Richard Mazur, performing with a mix of naivete and braggadocio) and his wife (Nancy Allen) twisting in the wind. Despite a contrived happy coda, the education--and disillusionment--of Ariel amounts to a harsh and cynical critique. Yvan Attal portrays Ariel as a stoic moral cipher who occasionally betrays his emotions by a wry smile or smirk. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, May 12, 3:00, and Tuesday and Thursday, May 14 and 16, 6:00, 443-3737. --Ted Shen

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