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The Russia House [VHS]


The Russia House [VHS]



Intelligent casting, strong performances, and the persuasive chemistry between Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer prove the virtues in director Fred Schepisi's well-intended but problematic screen realization of this John Le Carré espionage thriller. At its best, The Russia House"span" depicts the bittersweet nuances of the pivotal affair between a weary, alcoholic London publisher (Connery) and the mysterious Russian beauty (Pfeiffer) who sends him a fateful manuscript exposing the weaknesses beneath Soviet defense technology. Connery's Barley is a gritty, all-too-human figure who's palpably revived by his awakening feelings for Pfeiffer's wan, vulnerable Katya, whose own reciprocal emotions are equally convincing. Together, they weave a poignant romantic duet.

The problems, meanwhile, emanate from the story line that brings these opposites together. Le Carré's novels are absorbing but typically internal odysseys that seldom offer the level of straightforward action or simple arcs of plot that the big screen thrives on. For The Russia House"span", written as glasnost"span" eclipsed the cold war's overt rivalries, Le Carré means to measure how old adversaries must calibrate their battle to a more subtle, subdued match of wits. Barley himself becomes enmeshed in the mystery of the manuscript because British intelligence chooses to use him as cat's paw rather than become directly involved. Such subtlety may be a more realistic take on the spy games of the recent past, but it makes for an often tedious, talky alternative to taut heroics that Connery codified in his most celebrated early espionage role.

If the suspense thus suffers, we're still left with an affecting love story, as well as some convincing sniping between British and U.S. intelligence operatives, beautifully cast with James Fox, Roy Scheider, and John Mahoney. Veteran playwright Tom Stoppard brings considerable style to the dialogue, without solving the problem of giving us more than those verbal exchanges to sustain dramatic interest. --Sam Sutherland

The Russia House [VHS]

I'm a big John Le Carre fan but I found this quite disappointing, like most of the Hollywood Le Carre adaptations. The only thing of interest for me was the documentary aspect of it being filmed in Russia at the tail end of the Cold War.Better stick with the classic BBC adaptations of Tinker Tailor..., Smiley's People and A Perfect Spy which still stand up remarkably well.Connery and Pfeiffer aren't really Le Carre people, but I thoroughly enjoyed Ken Russell's turn. He's as eccentric as Beryl Reid and fits right in to this world.Don't get me started on the re-makes. Counterfiet pretending to be the real McCoy. Gary Oldman will never in a million years be George Smiley and Kathy Burke isn't Beryl Reid. It was a three card trick that fooled some.The same goes for the Night Manager. Grossly over-rated tosh,The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and A Deadly Affair still stand up remarkably well.As for the Little Drummer Girl (both versions) words fail me...
Based on John le Carré's novel from 1989, the film came out in 1990 and has the distinction of being one of the first Western productions to be filmed on location in the then Soviet Union. This alone makes the film worth watching. For anybody who remembers travelling there during those heady few years of the Gorbachev administration when the country was starting to open up, this will bring back many memories.Though large parts of the film are set in Russia, the title refers to a department within the British Secret Service that dealt with espionage in the USSR. The story is a spy thriller with a heavy element of romance thrown in, and this works very well. Sean Connery plays a hard drinking publisher with contacts in the USSR who is recruited by MI6 to follow up a lead in Moscow, the lovely Michelle Pfeiffer is one of his Russian contacts, Klaus Maria Brandauer (who previously appeared opposite Connery as the villain Largo in Never Say Never Again) is the man who holds the information MI6 is trying to get its hands on. Or is he a KGB plant? John Mahoney, Roy Scheider and James Fox appear in supporting roles.The film is a slow stylish affair, don't expect to see a lot of exciting action here. The cast, on the other hand, is rather exciting and all deliver solid perfomances. It's a bit a blast from the past and will probably be best enjoyed by those who remember the dying days of the Cold War when Soviet military secrets were still the holy grail of espionage and beautiful Russian women married Westerners. Sometimes for love, oftentimes as a ticket to the West.
Got this DVD after reading the book. I think the film gives a first rate impression of a citizen's drab everyday life in Russia in the 60's/70's that concurs exactly with my own visits to Poland and Czechoslovakia. Can't comment much on the spycraft issues and Russian missile technology which is at the centre of the story, not being in the business, The only "secret" learned was that none of their stuiff really worked except to scare the US just enough to keep its defence industry in business. As the Russians later got to the moon, they couldn't really be that bad at making rockets.
I really enjoyed this.I think it's one of Michelle Pfeiffer's best films and Sean Connery is Sean Connery, but pretty much perfect in this role. I thought Roy Scheider's character came perilously close to cartoonish on occasion - more the script's fault than the actor's - but, on the whole, I thought everyone pretty good, even - or especially - Ken Russell (never before seen him in anything but his own stuff). Lisbon, Moscow and St Petersburg had good supporting roles, too.There's a paradox here, though. On the one hand, it's great to watch a film with a real plot and script and I was enthralled as the story worked itself out - unlike so many modern films where it seems to have been decided that cost can be cut by dispensing with proper writers. With John Le Carre and Tom Stoppard on board this lot shouldn't have been able to go wrong, but - POSSIBLE SPOILER COMING UP - I really don't understand the ending and I'm pretty sure it isn't my fault. How the hell can Barley be said to have fulfilled his promise to Dante? How can handing over the 'shopping list' possibly be the equivalent of publishing Dante's book? I suppose I'll have to read Le Carre's book where I hope the ending will make more sense.Loved the film but can't get past that ending, so I have to knock off one star.






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