Movie spies have always led the glamorous life of cool jazz, shaken martinis, flame-throwing shoehorns, easy sex, and jet-lag-less travel. With the perfect femme fatale to match each perfectly-tailored blazer, these characters fit the classic definition of “fly” as an adjective: good-looking, sophisticated, memorable.
I’m not a secret agent, nor do I wish to be beholden to someone else’s rules about where I go or with whom I fraternize, but there is something appealing in the way these covert cavorters circle the globe gathering high-priced data and solving crimes. And even though there is a serious dearth of black, Latino, and Asian international men of mystery on film (I vote Chiwetel for the first Black Bond), when I see these five particular spies on the screen, I can’t help but think, for a few seconds, “That’s me!” Yeah, yeah…wishful thinking.
Sean Connery (above) as James Bond (obviously) in, hell, everything 007
I grew up on Bond: my folks were hard-core 007 fans and not only did the family gather together for every James Bond Marathon on TBS, one of my earliest movie theater experiences was sitting on Pops’ lap in 1983 watching the suggestively-named Octopussy. Obviously, this early indoctrination in travel and adventure had its intended effect, though I’m not as into guns or accumulating Wilt Chamberlain-like sexual statistics as our Mr. Bond. Still, the gadgetry, sharp suits, and Scottish swagger of the fliest secret agent of the Jet Age makes Bond the ultimate jetrosexual.
Leonardo di Caprio as Frank Abagnale in Catch Me If You Can
If becoming an airline pilot were this easy, I’d have started peeling the labels off of bottles a long time ago. While not an actual spy, Leo’s character in Catch Me If You Can hops around the world impersonating a card-carrying airman of THE pioneering American international airline at the height of its reach: almost 160 countries on every continent except Antarctica! Damn! I’m not the biggest fan of the actor, but this is one of my favorite film roles involving clandestine travel. Sometimes, I just watch the opening titles for a quick fix.
Richard Roundtree as John Shaft in Shaft in Africa
Don’t laugh; Shaft was a bad mutha-shutchomouf. The only overseas ass-kicker of color* took it to the Motherland in Shaft in Africa to stop a French-backed modern-day slave ring. Yes, it was blaxploitation; yes, it was the 70s. So what? Roundtree represented all Fly Brothers of the day with his tight ‘fro, Uptown style, and street smarts – from Abidjan to Paris. Check the trailer and watch Shaft go “…into the mother country like a black tornado!” Hee, hee!
Clive Owen as Ray Koval in Duplicity
Clive brought levity to the spy genre with his smug/snarky brand of corporate espionage in Duplicity, which is more my bag than the heavy artillery of government intelligence. He also looked fly as hell in his suits-and-shades, tailing company secrets, and perfect match Julia Roberts, from Rome to Dubai to Nassau to Zurich. I wish I had one of those cheeky Midlands accents!
Tom Hardy as Eames from Inception
Tom Hardy’s Eames is the coolest character in all of Inception, not least of all because he hangs out in Mombasa, but also because he’s a shape-shifter in people’s dreams. That’s bad-ass! He’s just the right mix of brash and classy that makes me want his gig over the potentially-more interesting position of dream architect. Did I mention dude hangs out in Mombasa?
*I know there was The Rock in The Rundown, but I’m not really inspired by a big dude thrashing through the Amazon in a sweaty, dirty white T-shirt. That’s pretty much how I look leaving the gym every day.
Who are some of your favorite/inspirational movie spies?