Complicit: TV Drama Review
Complicit stars David Oyelowo, who played Danny in Spooks/Mi5, as Edward Ekubo and Arsher Ali, who was in Four Lions, as Waleed Ahmed. It was directed by Niall MacCormick from a screenplay by Guy Hibbert. It was first shown on British TV network Channel 4 in February 2013
Note: Spoilers are blacked out like like this [blackout]secret[/blackout]. To reveal a spoiler, just highlight it.
When an MI5 agent who is obsessed with stopping a terror plot that he can’t convince his superiors is real flies to Egypt to interrogate the British man he believes to be organising it, he must decide how far he will go to prevent the attack.
Complicit: Plot Summary
Edward Ekubo is an MI5 agent who joined the Security Service straight from university and has been working there for fourteen years. It seems his career is going nowhere. Whether that’s because of his race or just his own inability to fit in is unclear. He has a distant relationship with his white colleagues and is separated from his wife, who is also white. However, he is deeply committed to Britain and desperate to prove himself in MI5.
Edward has been monitoring Waleed Ahmed, a suspected terrorist who is also a British subject, for three years. Edward becomes convinced Waleed is planning an attack using the poison Ricin but can’t quite prove it, the evidence all being rather circumstantial. He has told friends that he’s going to a wedding in Yemen. Edward knows this is a lie because an informant has told him Waleed is a sworn enemy of the bridegroom. He also suspects Waleed has terrorist contacts in Yemen. Edward’s superiors are less than convinced: the case is mostly Edward’s supposition, based on flimsy evidence. Eventually he persuades them to tail Waleed to Yemen.
Waleed loses his shadows, but Edward suspects he is heading for a castor bean farm near Cairo, as Ricin is made from castor beans. The Egyptian police raid the farm and arrest Waleed and the other conspirators, but no Ricin is found.
Edward flies to Cairo but is fobbed off by MI6’s man there, who takes a snobbish attitude to Edward. They interview Waleed, who claims that he is innocent and has been tortured by the local police. Waleed knows that MI5 and MI6’s rules mean the torture allegation must be investigated before they can interrogate him.
Following the rules, Edward is forced to sit and wait. Worse, with no Ricin at the farm, the case against Waleed is thin. The MI6 man seems slow, unhelpful and rule-bound. He even makes excuses for not introducing Edward to the Egyptian State Security’s man, Colonel Hazem Ashraf.
Edward is sure that time is running out and two days have already passed in inaction. He goes to find Colonel Ashraf for himself. Ashraf admits he tortured the castor bean farmers, but says he didn’t torture Waleed. However, he offers to remedy this, if Edward want him to. He also says the reason no Ricin was found at the farm was that the Egyptian police failed to look for it.
Edward goes to the farm and finds suspicious containers. He wants them sent to London for tests to prove he’s right. The MI6 man agrees, but once again is in no rush.
Against orders, Edward tries to interrogate Waleed, but handles it badly. Waleed all but admits he is a terrorist and provokes Edward into attacking him. He says there’s nothing Edward can do to stop the plot because of the bureaucratic inertia of MI5 and MI6.
Edward is faced with a dilemma: let the plot go ahead or ask Colonel Ashraf to torture the location of the Ricin out of Waleed.
He [blackout]gives Colonel Ashraf the go ahead.[/blackout]
Colonel Ashraf [blackout]beats an address out of Waleed. Edward forwards it to MI5. The MI6 guy is appalled when he sees Waleed’s serious injuries. Edward is recalled to the UK to faces the consequences of his decision. The address turns out to be false. An Egyptian blogger has pictures of Edward with Colonel Ashraf. The whole case is going to be all over the papers.[/blackout]
Edward [blackout]becomes the victim of an MI5 damage limitation exercise and is fired. With the evidence against Waleed tainted by the torture, he walks free. Edward has failed to stop the terror plot: his life is destroyed and he is alone, expecting Waleed to hunt him down.[/blackout]
Complicit is a slow, serious character-driven film centred on two fantastic performances by Oyelowo and Ali. Both of their characters are in their own ways outsiders in British society, and both in their own ways fanatics. Edward is desperate to fit in but unable to do so, more, the viewer suspects, due to his own nature than his race. Waleed hates everything about Britain and wants to tear the country down and implement his own idea of utopia. The subtle, moody script gives Oyelowo a lot to do and he succeeds brilliantly, as does Ali in his smaller part. The confrontation between the two of them is the highlight of the film.
On my real-to-unreal spy movie scale, Complicit gets a full 10/10 for realism. Grey offices. Colourless suits worried about the budget implications of tailing suspects to Yemen. MI6 officers more interested in which university Edward went to than stopping the Ricin plot. It all rings true, reminding me of some of John le Carre’s more downbeat novels. Of course, that means the film is not for everyone. There are no action set-pieces whatsoever, for example.
Complicit offers a better and more thorough exploration of the issues surrounding torture than Zero Dark Thirty did, by some distance. I am opposed to torture, but this film did show me the pressure on our security services. The strength of the siren call to get results is dramatised superbly.
At times, Complicit also made me think of Skyfall, not in any directly comparable way but as a critique. Edward is a Bond figure trapped in reality, the loner who is willing to break the rules and pursue his vendetta at whatever cost. [blackout]The denouement shows what would happen to Bond in reality. He’d be thrown out of the service as an embarrassing ‘bad apple’, unable to fit in and too willing to break the rules.[/blackout]
Alternative Complicit Movie Poster
Here’s my design for an alternate poster for Complicit. Actually in this case it’s not so much an alternative poster as just a poster, as I don’t think Channel Four produced one. Click the poster to see alternative posters for other spy thrillers.
Complicit: My Rating
As you might guess from the analysis: top marks. This is great stuff for those who like a meaty, realistic spy drama.
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