Film Review – ‘Rogue Agent’ Adapts a True Story of Deception into a Compelling Thriller

Film Review – ‘Rogue Agent’ Adapts a True Story of Deception into a Compelling Thriller

Secrecy is inherently required in a number of fields and occupations to ensure basic operational efficiency. That’s especially true when projects or missions are high-risk, and the more people who know the truth, the more dangerous and likely to be exposed they become. Yet prohibiting someone from talking about something or refusing to share details with them can also lead to an abuse of power and no way to verify that a threat or goal is actually real. Rogue Agent looks at a startling case of one man who was able to deceive a number of women into thinking he was an MI-5 agent and throw their lives into chaos.

Robert Freegard (James Norton) is introduced against the backdrop of the Irish Republican Army in the 1990s, meeting several students and later revealing his identity as an MI-5 operative. After convincing them to abandon their lives because their cover had allegedly been blown, Freegard exacts a frightening degree of control over them. As one woman, Sophie Jones (Marisa Abela), remains in a perpetual state of hiding, awaiting her eventual promotion to agent, Freegard meets Alice Archer (Gemma Arterton), a lawyer initially uninterested in her car salesman suitor who eventually gives in to his charms, only to learn that he is not at all who he claims to be.

Rogue Agent
Gemma Arterton and James Norton. Courtesy of Nick Briggs. An IFC Films release.

Rogue Agent is based on the true story of Freegard, who was never an agent of the government and who did perpetuate financial and psychological abuse on a number of women over the course of a decade in the 1990s. This story is framed from a fictional angle, adding Archer into the mix as a woman suspicious enough at first to have a background check run on Freegard and then compelled to extreme action when she realized who he truly was. It’s an effective angle to present an examination of Freegard and the disturbing ease with which he was able to get away with such destructive behavior.

This drama smartly pairs Norton and Arterton, two skilled young actors who have already turned in many memorable performances. Norton has been seen on British series including McMafia, Granchester, and Happy Valley, and he brings a disarming charm to Freegard that slowly reveals itself to be a mask for a cruel and unfeeling ability to extort others. Arterton, who has done drama in Summerland and The Disappearance of Alice Creed and action in The King’s Man and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, plays Archer as a career-oriented woman fiercely committed to justice in whatever form she needs to find it.

Rogue Agent
Marisa Abela as Sophie Jones. Courtesy of Nick Briggs. An IFC Films release.

What Rogue Agent does particularly well, in addition to its performances, which also include memorable contributions from Abela and Sarah Goldberg as another victim, is to show just how Freegard was able to get away with his crimes. It’s best likened to understanding how someone could get a call from a sheriff or other law enforcement official demanding the immediate purchase of gift cards to be deposited at a specific location to void an outstanding warrant. Upon reflection, compliance seems unthinkable once reason takes hold, yet in the moment, it’s impossible to deny the intensity and inescapability of being in that situation.

Watching this film will surely inspire further research into the man on whose story it is based. Unlike a case like Inventing Anna, where concerns have been raised about its subject benefiting from the proceeds and good press of the Netflix hit series, there is no ambiguity about Freegard’s identity and motivations here. While Norton’s performance is layered and complex, Freegard is undeniably a bad person who took advantage of others purely for his own benefit. This film is an engaging dramatic thriller, but it leaves no questions about whether Freegard is a hero or villain.

Grade: B+

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

Rogue Agent debuts in theaters and on AMC+ on Friday, August 12th.

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