Gaslighting is the name of the game in Rogue Agent, a harrowing and shocking thriller based on the true story of conman Robert Freegard. Played by James Norton (2019’s Little Women, Nowhere Special), Freegard is imbued with a sense of charisma even as he works all the charms of a master manipulator. It is rather a shame that the movie itself plays off Freegard’s true nature as something of a twist when the advertising wants one to know that he isn’t really an MI5 agent at all, but such is the nature of the beast. Playing opposite Norton is English actress Gemma Arterton (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Prince of Persia) as Alice, Freegard’s current target and a possible foil to his treachery.
Rogue Agent is set in the 1990s, as MI5 recruited freelance spies to inform on potential terrorist threats. Posing as an undercover spy, the film starts with Robert recruiting three new potentials before flashing forward a whopping nine years. Now working as a car salesman, Robert sets his sights on a cute litigations solicitor, Alice. The two have an adorable casual flirtation as he weasels his way into her life despite her hard exterior. One day, Alice notices a woman named Sophie calling Robert’s phone while he is in the shower. Suspecting he may be married, Alice hires a private investigator to research him. To no surprise, there is no public record of anyone going by his name.
Still, Alice is not completely in doubt about Robert. He tells her that he does indeed work for MI5, and introduces her to extravagant cars and apparent excess. Roberts warns her that she will be tested, and possibly turned against him. Alice does more digging, still having a bit of doubt in the back of her mind. Soon enough, Rogue Agent becomes an exciting cat and mouse game between Robert and Alice. Did he ever really love her? What are his true intentions? Why has he kept Sophie, one of the recruits from nine years ago, around this long? Nothing is creepier than the truth of a man who perpetuates an endless cycle of taking advantage of women by brainwashing and gaslighting them before robbing them blind.
If I had any issues, I would say that the pacing is a bit off towards the middle. The ending also is not exactly a major fireworks display; however, having been based on a true story, this aspect is forgivable if it stayed true to life. A definite sense of satisfaction is attained, before the closing afterward crawl quickly robs the viewer of catharsis. Apparently, Robert Freegard’s story was also covered extensively in Netflix’s miniseries, The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman. I can only imagine that version goes into far more detail than a two hour film is able, especially considering the approach in centering on one victim’s absolute viewpoint. Rogue Agent is quite good, but the performances from Gemma Arterton and James Norton are extraordinary.
Rogue Agent brainwashes viewers everywhere when it debuts in theaters and on AMC+ on Friday, August 12th.