The Veil Review

The Veil
The Veil
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About spycraft and shouting, the first scene of The Veil shows Imogen Salter stomping through a sleek airport terminal. (Only ugly Sbarros and whiny children exist in real life, not on television.) A nondescript “foreign man” is met by her and then she goes in for the kill. Whoever he thought she was–and she’s apparently been with him for 27 days–was a ruse. As INTERPOL comes to drag him away, he’s practically shaking his fist and shouting “I’ll get you for this, Elisabeth Moss!” She smiles. Another case closed.

This “you think you know me, but you don’t” opening really did a number on me. For most of this show — a not-very-good ticking-clock caper with occasional flashes of John le Carré-like insight into the world of professional deception — I was expecting the carpet to get pulled. For starters,Moss is doing an English accent the whole time. She’s going to turn out to be from Bloomington, Indiana any moment, right? But no, what you see here is pretty much what you get. She’s playing an MI6 agent who’s working furiously to stop a Muslim terrorist cell from setting off a dirty bomb somewhere in a highly populated American port. With such a 24-esque setup, The Veil could pass for the most cutting edge television series of 2004!

The operation begins in a refugee camp on the Syria-Turkey border.Imogen drives up a snowy mountain just as several Yazidi women recognize that, in their midst,is an ISIS operative —a perpetually-scowling woman named Adila (Yumna Marwan). She claims to be a French citizen who just kinda-sorta got swooped up into ISIS and while present at some of their mass murder atrocities wasn’t really on board so to speak.But there is reason to believe that she is actually “The Djinn of Raqqa,” a big cheese in the organization, plotting a major action.

Imogen rescues her from the camp and they begin an odd couple-like adventure from Istanbul to Paris to London to, eventually, some countryside manner that reminded me of the end of The Gray Man (not a good sign) on Netflix. Only Imogen’s mind games can suss out the truth of the situation and save thousands of lives so we’re told so a lot is at stake to let our heroine work her magic. While the location photography looks nice, the shooting style is pretty standard, as is the dialogue. It’s kind of hard to believe something so rote would get made today.Other 2024 efforts from FX and Hulu like Shōgun and Under the Bridge are both far more innovative.

There are some interesting moments in The Veil. According to The Veil, imaging machines in abandoned Iraqi hospitals have enough radioactive material to create a dirty bomb. (I’ll have to Google that later – on someone else’s computer, don’t need the feds coming down on me.) Another fun thing is the chest-thumping between national intelligence organizations. Imogen might nominally work for Britain’s MI6, but she’s a lone-wolf-who-gets-results type; this gig has her reporting to her employer’s French counterpart, the DGSE. Her handler/plot-complicating romantic interest, Malik (Dali Bensallah), and his boss, Magritte (Thibault de Montalembert), are frenemies with the CIA’s man in Paris, Max (the very entertaining Josh Charles). Max hurls a lot of amusing Francophobia their way; at first his jokes about long lunches and banker’s hours are quality fun. Then it just gets repetitive. Still, there probably is some truth to the idea that independent agencies working toward a common goal would keep information from one another mostly because they think their colleagues are annoying.

An effort is made to keep The Veil from being too retrograde in its politics. Malik is very much one of the good guys, and he is of French Algerian heritage. We don’t exactly see him praying five times daily, but there’s a shot of him readying for dinner with his family with tagines on the table. Also? It seems like the martyrdom-obsessed ISIS grunts have their strings pulled by Russians. Are Russians actually running ISIS these days? That seems like one I will Google: This seems to be one invented by our show’s creators.

At the end of the day, The Veil isn’t going to be one of those more memorable lines on creator Stephen Knight’s résumé – Knight being the Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises screenwriter who most recently found mainstream success with Netflix’s Peaky Blinders. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have its thrills. There were several times in which I said “oh, how’s Elisabeth Moss gonna’ get out of this one?” and then she did something clever to work her way through a jam; oftentimes this involved faking an accent, but one encounter included taking a metal traffic pole and using it like a baseball bat on some motorcycle-riding baddies. Knight’s scripts constantly insist that if Imogen were just left alone to work her magic, she’d have everything sewn up. But other people (men! Lunkheaded men!) keep getting in her way.

Moss is best when she’s thinking five steps ahead and using inter-dimensional psychology on everyone around her, but she handles her few Jason Bourne-like moments reasonably well; there are a scene or two where it’s required for her to slip into sultry Angelina Jolie Mode and, considering how serious-and-not-playful the rest of The Veil is, it just doesn’t work.

The Veil tries to get at something bigger than itself, philosophically speaking. Both characters played by Moss and Marwan are women who have suffered loss and trauma, living their lives through different identities; veils if you will. But these were the moments that really worked for me – they were so corny and melodramatic I couldn’t help but laugh. All it made me think was how much better this could have been done in two hours like most movies today instead of six episodes.

Final thoughts: If there’s nothing else to watch on your 6 hour flight then yeah go ahead with The Veil because trust me staring at the seat in front of you is worse. You’ve watched shows like this before, and seen Elisabeth Moss try out a Brit accent is always fun. I just want movies not shows right now

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