Movie stereotype of dangerous spy is far from real life of accused Anna Chapman

Accused Russian spy Anna Chapman became an instant Web sensation following the release of photos posted on the Russian social-networking Web site "Odnoklassniki," or Classmates.
By Jeff Stein
Saturday, July 3, 2010

Has Anna Chapman finally met her cinematic metaphor?

This week, it was "Spies Like Us" and "The Spy Next Door."

Need I say more?

But metaphorical help may be on the way. With uncanny timing, Hollywood is about to release "Salt," with Angelina Jolie at her pouty-mouthed best as, yes, a suspected Russian agent.

Chapman, who flaunted her sex appeal on Facebook, is cooling her heels in the Manhattan jail, of course.

Comparisons between the two are already spreading like spilled borscht on the Web. But like most spy movies, "Salt" has only passing resemblance to the more humdrum reality of a saga like Chapman's.

For openers, Jolie is a top CIA counterintelligence agent who comes under suspicion as a Russian mole.

Chapman, as far as we know, never applied for a government job, never mind landing one at the CIA. Maybe she was too busy posting pictures of herself and partying around town.

She was content -- or assigned, the FBI might say -- to ply her trade as a party-hopping New York real estate agent while she worked up contacts who could be recruited by the heavyweights back in Moscow.

Her 10 erstwhile alleged colleagues worked, respectively, as a management consultant, financial planner, travel agent, Spanish-language newspaper columnist and stay-at-home mom, among other less-than-glamorous jobs.

Avoiding notice was part of their job. Chapman was the odd duck of the lot. The mission of the rest was to watch, make contacts and send home the names of potential recruits.

Indeed, they haven't been charged with stealing any secrets, and, by the looks of it, they never even tried.

They were "sleepers," the feds say, long-term, deep-cover agents.

Not exactly action figures, not a Jolie among them, by the usual Hollywood formula. But that doesn't mean there's not a movie in the material.

A band of Russian spies in the U.S. conspires to ditch their mission in favor of living the good life in America. Moscow Center is not happy, and dispatches morale officer Alan Arkin to pump them up.

A pouty Anna Chapman snarks, "What are you going to do -- call the cops?"

Too cerebral? Hollywood's spy flicks usually call for guns or car chases, a run through a Metro station and at least one instance of unspeakable cruelty.

"Salt," in other words. You have to go all the way back to 1987's "No Way Out," where Kevin Costner does a pretty good job of acting like a regular guy, to find material approximating this week's reality.

The principal grist for this week's headlines, "Spies Like Us," with Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase, and "The Spy Next Door," with Jackie Chan, are so far off base as to be ludicrous.

As it turns out, though, there is a movie opening here that finally cuts close to the bone of the current predicament.

It's called "L'affaire Farewell." It's a tense docudrama based on the true story of a disaffected KGB colonel in the 1980s, whose leaks led to the expulsion of 40 Russian spies from the United States, including some high up in the Reagan administration's CIA and Pentagon. The damage they did was so astounding, the film implies, that the facts had to be suppressed, lest Americans turn catatonic with shock.

Now that's a spy movie. But nobody gets killed with a silencer, run down by a truck or poisoned with a steak.

There's just no headlines from that.

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