Rogue Agent (2022) Review!!

Synopsis – The extraordinary and chilling story of career conman Robert Freegard who masqueraded as an MI5 agent and fooled people into going into hiding, and the woman who fell for him, and then brought him down.

My Take – Going by the title of this British film, one might expect this to be some kind of an action thriller around spy work, but astoundingly this latest Netflix release is instead a psychological thriller based on real life saga of Robert Hendy-Freegard, a convicted conman and impostor who took fraud and the long con to a whole new level.

Making a flabbergasting addition to the sometime fact is stranger than fiction staple, Hendy-Freegard’s true life tale is so fantastical that it blurs the line between speculation and reality, yet remains undeniably true, with real world shattering consequences.

The name might sound familiar to some as his story has been previously covered in the 2005 Channel 5 documentary, The Spy Who Stole My Life, as well as the 2022 Netflix docuseries, The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman. Both of which highlighted his crimes and manipulation of others, and made for an interesting but rather uncomfortable viewing experiences.

The same goes for this feature, a very engaging watch which becomes as insane and unsettling as the story builds through the first half, and unfolds with tension and pace in the second. What works in this film’s favor is the way everything is slotted together remarkably by first time co-directors Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson, who co-wrote the film with Michael Bronner, on whose article ‘Chasing Agent Freegard’ the film is based upon.

Add to that the strong lead performances from James Norton and Gemma Arterton, who along with a well-paced script, manage to add an edge to ensure a fully-rounded sinister experience that is absolutely worth watching, more so because of the incredible nature of the true story it is based on.

The fictionalized story follows Alice Archer (Gemma Arterton), a young successful London litigator who while walking to work gets approached by Robert Hansen (James Norton), a handsome luxury car salesman, who claims he had noticed her commute as she passed the dealership. Though Alice is initially skeptical, but going by his charms, sophistication, and looks, she ends up dropping her misgivings and the pair start dating.

But when Robert begins to act suspicious, Alice asks her company’s private investigator to look into his background, who comes back with information that there is no trace of a man named Robert Hansen in any record. And when Alice confronts Robert about this discovery, he informs her that his real name is actually Robert Freegard and that he is an undercover agent working for MI5. Although it seems a little unlikely, Alice believes Robert’s story about being a spy, and continues their relationship.

But as time passes, Alice begins to suspect somethings are a miss about him, and starts digging further. Expecting evidence of another woman, Alice is unexpectedly exposed to Robert’s highly dangerous behavior with past relationships and introduced to the saga of Sophie (Marisa Abela), a trusting girl swept into Robert’s mind games after he presented himself as an MI5 agent, forcing her into years of tests to prove her loyalty.

As the story unfolds, and the truth behind Freegard’s crimes bubble to the surface, the film cranks up the tension. It moves into some dark places, adding further layers to the tale, and giving its lead players chance to shine even more. The film also regularly checks in on Sophie, one of the girls from the film’s opening, and eventually follows up with Robert’s other recruits.

In reality, Freegard was brought down by an American child psychologist called Kim Adams and not Archer, who seems to be a fictionalized version of the woman who eventually vanquished him. But even if the central relationship between Freegard and Archer isn’t entirely true, it still makes for a gripping story.

The film has the structure of a twisted thriller, and one with a heavy psychological component that allows for some extended displays of sinister behavior. By separating this film into two parts we really get to understand how alluring Freegard was. He always says the right things, an expert manipulator who pushes prey into scenarios they willingly embrace, and in a way that tells us he’s someone we can trust. And without knowing its all lies going in, it’s easy to buy what he’s selling.

The film shows the crushing extent a ruthless manipulator will go to achieve their goals. But while the second half may not be as tight as the first, it’s no less intriguing with evidence that was initially ignored reaching Alice’s hands who is not a fool. She’s swept off her feet by intrigue and excitement. Freegard offered a titillating escape from her ordinary existence. He always had an excuse for his shady past. Freegard questioned trust to reinforce his will. It was calculated methodology to overcome objections. He would then move the goal posts to exert more dominance and compliance. Alice doesn’t let shame quiet her resolve. A fantastic scene has her explaining that she has to get him out of her head.

Yes, the climax takes a procedural turn that loses a bit of intensity. The audience knows the jig is up, but the film has to plod through the necessary law enforcement steps. Nevertheless, it is acting of the two main stars that does much to lure us into this chilling tale as does the screenplay, which manages to keep us on our toes throughout.

Performance wise, James Norton is very convincing as the fake spy, showing both the charming and the sinister sides of his character as he manipulates his victims into doing his bidding. While Gemma Arterton ably shows both the fragile and resilient side of her character. In supporting roles, Marisa Abela, Shazad Latif, Sarah Goldberg, Freya Mavor, Julian Barrat and Jimmy Akingbola are effective. On the whole, ‘Rogue Agent’ is a well told fascinating story that is both intriguing and riveting.

Directed – ,

Starring – Gemma Arterton, Sarah Goldberg, James Norton

Rated – R

Run Time – 115 minutes

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