Robert Downey Jr. Is Nearly Unrecognizable in My Favorite New HBO Show ‘The Sympathizer’

It premieres on April 14

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the sympathizer review hbo
Beth Dubber/HBO

This all-new book-to-film adaptation is a must-watch for fans (like myself) of historical war dramas

The Sympathizer is set to premiere on Max on April 14, and it explores the days leading up to the Vietnam War. It also features an outstanding performance by Robert Downey Jr., who plays a CIA agent. But what is the drama about? And is it worth the watch? Keep scrolling for my honest review.

What Is The Sympathizer About?

The series is based on the 2015 novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Not only was it a best-seller, but it also won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The story is told through flashbacks from the perspective of a political prisoner. The first episode begins with a quick history lesson for those who are unfamiliar with the logistics of the Vietnam War (it’s called the American War in Vietnam), and it details the four months leading up to the fall of Saigon. 

Viewers are immediately introduced to an unnamed communist agent, who’s half-Vietnamese and half-French. He’s working undercover and reporting back to military officials with his findings. He is mainly focused on exposing a general who is planning to flee to America with as many employees as possible. Although he initially plans to reveal his true identity before boarding the plane, he’s tasked with accompanying the general to the states, so he can continue to report back on what’s happening. As a result, he must stay undercover for the time being. 

the sympathizer review hbo robert downey jr
Hopper Stone/HBO

Is It Worth the Watch?

As someone who enjoys edge-of-your-seat war dramas, The Sympathizer is right up my alley. The show features loads of flashbacks and time-jumps, so it was important for me to pay close attention to what’s happening—especially in the first episode. Plus, the premiere has a mix of English dialogue and subtitles that required 100 percent of my awareness. (This will likely change in episode two, when the setting changes to America.)

One of the biggest takeaways is Robert Downey Jr.’s unbelievable performance as Claude, a CIA agent who takes the spy under his wing. The actor, 58, is nearly unrecognizable in the role, including everything from his receding hairline to his unique accent. And though he stays in Vietnam while the spy heads to America, I sincerely hope his cameos will increase as the storyline progresses.

the sympathizer review hbo duy nguyen
Hopper Stone/HBO

Will The Sympathizer Return for Season Two?

HBO hasn’t renewed The Sympathizer for season two (at least not yet). But based on how much story there is to tell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the show returns for another season, depending how much ground it covers in the first batch of episodes. 

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Senior Editor

Greta Heggeness is a California-based editor at PureWow and has been writing about entertainment since 2015. She covers everything from awards shows to exclusive celebrity...