(Warning: This post contains spoilers from Netflix limited series “The Spy.”)
Sacha Baron Cohen-led limited series “The Spy” — which comes out today on Netflix — tells the true story of how famed Israeli Mossad agent Eli Cohen went undercover in 1960s Syria. But it also dives into the tragic love story between Cohen and his wife Nadia, to whom he is forced to lie to maintain his cover.
Creator Gideon Raff, whose Israeli television series “Prisoners of War” was the basis for Showtime-drama “Homeland,” says his goal for “The Spy” was to leave the politics to the politicians and instead put the spotlight on the deep emotional struggle that came with Cohen’s sacrifices.
“In the middle of this thing is a huge, huge love story,” Raff told TheWrap. “I think Eli really thought that by living in Damascus and spying for Israel, he was protecting his wife and his children.”
In “The Spy,” Cohen’s wife Nadia is played by Hadar Ratzon Rotem, who also starred in Raff’s “Prisoners of War.”
“You know, in the last letter Eli writes to his family, the real letter — it’s heartbreaking, because he writes to [Nadia], ‘Of course be sad a little bit, but then remarry so that the kids have a father and you have a partner.’ And she never did,” Raff said.
As part of his research into the series, Raff spoke to the real-life Nadia, who is still working to have her husband’s remains brought back to Israel from Syria 55 years after his death. He also spent time with two of their children, Sophie and Shai.
“She’s been fighting for his return all these years,” he said. “That idea of your father, your husband, being put on a pedestal, but you just want to a hug your father who is not there anymore — it was very moving.”
Raff also described witnessing Sacha Baron Cohen transform into Eli Cohen in a way we’ve never seen him do for any other role.
“Everyday we were looking at Sacha Baron Cohen naked for the first time in front of the camera, without a larger than life character,” he said. “I would not let him add comedy to this role, because I thought we should just commit to who [Eli] is and not worry about what usually [Sacha] is perceived as,” he said.
“The Spy” is full of suspense, and Raff makes us acutely aware that every moment could be Cohen’s last as his Syrian alter ego, Kamel Amin Thabet.
“It’s the minutia of real spying — it’s crossing the border when you know that the suitcase has the transmitter and everything that Eli actually did have,” Raff said. “It’s not having the privilege of shooting somebody and just moving on, like James Bond.”
All 44 Stephen King Movies, Ranked Worst to Best (Photos)
Where does “Doctor Sleep” place among the many big-screen adaptations of the horror master’s work?
Stephen King isn't just an author by this point: He's an institution, a legacy of classic horror stories that capture our imaginations, fuel our nightmares, and speak -- when he's at his best -- to our shared experiences as flawed, emotional beings. The best King stories scare so many of us that we all feel connected, and even the worst are usually pretty fun.
King's books and short stories quickly became hit movies, many of them celebrated in their time, and some flopped so hard that hardly anybody remembers them. Cataloguing every adaptation might be a fool's errand, so we made some tough choices and decided to focus only on his theatrical releases.
And even then, there are so many King adaptations that it gets tricky. The sequels to King's work rarely have anything to do with the source material, so they're all disqualified (even though some, like Larry Cohen's prescient anti-fascist monster drama "A Return to Salem's Lot," are genuinely interesting). We also cut King some slack and removed "The Lawnmower Man" from our watch list, since he fought to have his own name removed from the film and won.
(There are also some adaptations that are simply difficult to find in America, like the Indian adaptions of "Misery" and "Quitter's, Inc." -- "Julie Ganapathi" and "No Smoking" -- but we tried. We promise we tried.)
Even with all those caveats we felt one particular film deserved a quasi-official, honorable mention. Before we rank into every theatrically-released Stephen King adaptation let's give out one honorable mention...