Taglines: Trust. Betrayal. Deception. In the C.I.A. nothing is what it seems.
James Clayton’s father went missing many years ago. The guy enters the Massachusetts University of Technology and successfully graduates with a specialization in computer programmer. Once he is met by CIA agent Walter Burke, who invites him to join the ranks of the Office, he clearly makes it clear to the guy that his father was also an intelligence agent. James accepts the offer. After passing multiple tests, he finds himself in a CIA training center called The Farm. Here Burke, along with other instructors, teaches the newcomers to espionage. During one of the training sessions, Clayton and his partner Layla Moore are pushed into a car and taken away by a group of unknown, presumably foreign intelligence officers.
James is brutally tortured and forced to reveal the names of the Farm employees. He endures all the torture for a long time, but breaks down when they tell him that because of him Layla will suffer. After he calls Burke, a screen opens, behind which are inspectors and other cadets who are watching what is happening. Clayton is kicked out of the academy as a failed trial. However, the next day Walter visits him and informs him that this was a trick. They want to use him as an unofficial agent to spy on Leila, who is suspected of spying.
A brilliant young CIA trainee is asked by his mentor to help find a mole in the Agency.
Also Known As: The Farm
Creators: Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer, Mitch Glazer
Director: Roger Donaldson
Star Cast: Al Pacino, Colin Farrell, Bridget Moynahan, Gabriel Macht
Producer (s): Jeff Apple, Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum
Cinematographer: Stuart Dryburgh
Production House: Touchstone Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, Epsilon Motion Pictures
Music: Klaus Badelt
Original network / Official Sites: Buena Vista Pictures
Release Year: 31 January 2003 (USA)
Runtime: 115 min
Genres: Action, Thriller
Country: USA, Switzerland
Language: English, Persian, Russian
James Clayton (Farrell) is a prodigious programmer studying nonlinear cryptography at MIT, collaborating with a group of peers to create Spartacus, an surveillance program that can enslave any computer’s audiovisual hardware to the master computer via the internet. His group showcases the software to Dell at a campus fair drawing substantial interest in its uses.
Later at his night job, James is approached by Walter Burke (Pacino), a man who claims to have known James’ deceased father and suggests he works for the Central Intelligence Agency. After a pitch to recruit James into the agency, James initially declines until he reconsiders it as an opportunity to get answers to his father’s mysterious plane crash in Peru several years earlier.
James passes the initial security screening and is bussed with the rest of his class to The Farm in rural Virginia where they undergo training as potential operatives. While there, James develops an attraction to Layla Moore (Moynahan) and a rivalry with Zack (Macht) whom is James’ competition for top of the class.
One night during a training exercise in which James and Layla are paired together to tail a mark, they are abducted by masked assailants and imprisoned where they are tortured psychologically and physically for several days. Their interrogators wish to know what happens at The Farm and the names of those who teach there. After resisting for days, James breaks when he’s told about Layla’s brutal treatment. He reveals Burke’s name, at which point it’s revealed that the whole experience was part of the exercise that the class was observing, including Layla, and that James failed by breaking. He is then dismissed from The Farm and the Agency.
Later, Burke seeks out a despondent James and informs him that his discharge was part of a cover story because he’s been selected as a non-official cover operative, or “NOC”. He gives James a low-level data entry position at the Agency so he can get close to Layla who has graduated from the farm and now holds a desk position higher in the Agency than James. Burke explains that Layla is suspected of working with foreign agents to steal CIA secrets, specifically a highly sensitive computer virus called “ICE-9” because it transmits via the electrical grid rather than telecommunications and is easily capable of disabling all electrical devices on the planet instantly, thus behaving similarly to the particle from the Kurt Vonnegut novel Cat’s Cradle.
James reunites with Layla and the two begin a romantic relationship. While staying overnight at her home, he checks her laptop for evidence of her crimes and she plants a bug on the lapel of his winter coat. Later, he witnesses her making a dead drop at Union Station, and follows the mysterious agent who retrieves what Layla left behind until the two end up in a shootout on the train tracks and the agent, who is revealed to be Zack, is killed.
Believing both of them to be traitors, James confronts Layla who tells him that Zack was the NOC, not him, and that she was tasked with assessing the security protocols of CIA headquarters because it was feared that someone else was stealing CIA material.
James then goes to a meet with Burke wherein he confronts Burke about what’s really happening. Burke claims that Zack’s death was faked, that the gun Burke gave James is loaded with non-lethal ammunition, and that everyone is intending to rendezvous for debrief momentarily. However, Burke catches James off guard and shoots at him, narrowly missing him but blowing out the rear window of his vehicle in the process, proving that the gun was in fact loaded with live ammunition and therefore Zack is indeed dead.
Burke pursues James through the abandoned warehouse they were parked outside, explaining to James along the way why he setup the elaborate lie to implicate them and cover up his own crimes of selling Agency secrets to foreign governments. James meanwhile has setup a laptop running Spartacus though it failed to connect, however he leads Burke to believe it successfully transmitted his confession back to the Agency and he’s now incriminated for everything. Burke angrily destroys the laptop and pursues James outside of the warehouse where a CIA strike team lead by Dennis Slayne (Pruner), another Farm instructor, is waiting. Burke launches into a tirade, airing his grievances against the Agency, believing that he was never appreciated for all the sacrifices he made in his career. Slayne realizes that Burke is the one they’re looking for and directs the strike team to target Burke to take into custody, revealing they were originally there to arrest James.
Realizing now that he really is incriminated, Burke refuses to be taken into custody and instead raises his empty gun at the strike team who quickly shoot and kill him. Slayne then drives James back to headquarters for a debrief, cryptically mentioning along the way that James was meant to be in that line of work because “it’s in [his] blood” suggesting his father in fact worked for the agency, despite Burke’s earlier denial of such.