Washington Post columnist and Morning Joe regular David Ignatius also finds time to write novels, including Body of Lies which was made into a film directed by Ridley Scott that starred Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio. His latest, The Quantum Spy, focuses on the race between the U.S. and China to develop a quantum computer, one capable of breaking codes millions of times faster than conventional computers. Ignatius has done his homework, yet makes the details about quantum computing understandable. In reality, while some progress has been made towards developing this super smart computer, the research is still in its infancy. Much is at stake. The country that manages to develop the first quantum computer will have an edge and it’s a battle that the CIA does not want to lose. That often means using methods that are unethical and at times illegal.
John Vandel, the CIA agent leading the operation, lacks a moral compass, whether dealing with the Chinese, the American scientists, or his own agents. He stays focused on the end game. Nothing else matters, even a bond that was forged on the battlefield. In 2005, Vandel was at the CIA station in Baghdad when the Green Zone sustained a rocket attack. Lieutenant Harris Chang, a patriot from Flagstaff, Arizona, ended up saving Vandel’s life. Seeing something in Chang, Vandel recruits him for the CIA and, for a while, the two enjoy a close working relationship. Yet that bond begins to fray when Vandel suspects, despite Chang’s protestations, that the young man has been seduced by the Chinese. Chang discovers, much to his dismay, that he may be an American, but to many he will first be Chinese and, therefore, suspected of betraying his country. Needless to say, the racist attitude on the part of Vandel and others in the CIA do not speak well of the agency Ignatius presents.
Meanwhile, there’s a mole in the CIA, someone feeding information to the Chinese. Chang is enlisted to tease out the mole, an operation that will test his loyalties, to both his heritage and his country.
Ignatius, who knows how to craft a page turner, has spent many years covering the CIA and other agencies. When does fiction cross over to real life? Perhaps more often than we know.
The Quantum Spy
Top photos: Bigstock
April Fool’s Day is upon us where we all get free reign to play pranks on one another and lie with impunity. In the spirit of this holiday, here are five note-worthy films celebrating hoaxsters, tricksters, and plain old flim-flam men. Enjoy! (But watch your wallet.)
The Music Man (1962) Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, Robert Preston’s performance of slick tongued salesman Harold Hill and how he transforms and is transformed in turn by River City, Iowa is one of the most iconic of all time. Also starring Buddy Hackett, Shirley Jones, and Paul Ford it was one of the highest grossing films of the year. It won the Academy Award for Best Musical Score and was nominated for five more including Best Picture. It later holds up as one of the best and most beloved movie musicals of all time and indeed ‘Harold Hill’ has now become cultural shorthand for swindlers everywhere!
The Sting (1973) Directed by the legendary George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford as two professional grifter’s in the Depression era, who pull on a complicated confidence scam on a mob boss played by Robert Shaw. A box office smash, The Sting was nominated for 10 Oscar Awards and won seven including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.
Six Degrees of Separation (1993) Directed by Frank Schepesi and adapted from the Pulitzer Prize nominated John Guare play of the same name and based on the true story of David Hampton. Fifth Avenue Socialite Ouisa Kittredge (Stockard Channing) and her husband Flan (Donald Sutherland) get taken in by slick young hustler Paul (Will Smith in his first major film debut) who convinces them that he’s the son of Sidney Poitier. Stockard Channing’s performance was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.
Catch Me If You Can (2002) Steven Spielburg directed this biographical crime film based on the life of Frank Abagnale who successfully impersonated a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer and made off with huge sums of cash-while he was still a teenager. Leonardo DiCaprio gives an astonishing performance as Frank, Christopher Walken plays his father Frank Sr., and Tom Hanks is Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent assigned to take him down. It was a financial and critical success with a 96% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and Christopher Walken was nominated for an Academy Award.
The Hoax (2006) Directed by Lasse Halstrom (The Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) and starring Richard Gere as Clifford Irving. It tells the story of Irving’s elaborate hoax of writing and publishing the autobiography of Howard Hughes – without ever even speaking to Howard Hughes himself. Anchored by Gere’s performance the movie also sports an all star cast including Al Molina, Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, and Stanley Tucci. Which helps explain why it made the Top 10 Films lists for both the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek.