Monday, 11 May 2009

Movie Review - The Russia House

The Russia House is an international espionage thriller which, according to the blurb, is ”A filmmaking tour de force and incredibly sophisticated, suspenseful and sexy entertainment”. Don’t believe the blurb – but don’t necessarily be put off watching this film, either.

Sean Connery stars as British publisher Barley Blair, who is sent a manuscript by Katya (Michelle Pfeiffer). This manuscript was written by a Soviet scientist and contains details of an extremely sensitive nature. British and American intelligence get wind of this potentially earth-shattering document and rope Blair in to work for them. When Blair eventually meets Katya, he realises that he wants to protect her more than anything else – or is he bluffing – or even double-bluffing?…

With an excellent cast including not only Connery and Pfeiffer but also Roy Scheider and James Fox , a plot based on a John le Carre novel, a screenplay by Tom Stoppard, and music by Jerry Goldsmith, this should have been a belter of a film. The plot is intriguing enough to give plenty of material for a normal film, but unwisely The Russia House pushes at the two hour mark, and there just isn’t quite enough depth in the storyline to sustain it. It could have worked better if the characters had been explored, but really few of them are more than caricatures, with only Connery and perhaps Fox delving into their deeper selves. There’s quite a lot of suspense in the film and the paranoid atmosphere of post cold war tensions between Britain/America was portrayed well, though the reserved British and gung-ho American mentality was a tad overplayed here. It could have been used to more effect if it hadn’t been so blatant. Having never read the book, I can’t say if this is a fault of the screenplay or the novel.

The cast do their jobs well, as you would expect of such a high calibre actors. Connery and Pfeiffer are generally excellent, while of the rest, Fox was very impressive. (Martin Clunes, in a bit part, plays a straight role for once but can’t seem to work out what he’s doing there…) Pfeiffer's accent is pretty good but then, with a surname like that, she shouldn't have much trouble with Eastern European accents! There’s nothing particularly wrong with the film technically and the music score is effectively moody, though a little too minimalist for my taste (it takes truly amazing minimalist music to impress me as I don't generaly like that style). The direction (by Fred Schepsi) is fine as far as it goes, it’s just that it goes on too long. Not enough really happens to create the needed suspense to carry the slower scenes in the film. The twist ending just took too long to happen, and when it did there wasn’t much of an element of surprise.

It's not a bad movie but considering how good a film this could (and perhaps should) have been, it is only “average”. Overall, if you enjoy espionage films, and particularly if you like Connery and Pfieffer (I’m a fan of both), you’ll enjoy this film – to an extent, anyway. I’m going to recommend it since I don’t regret watching it and I may even do so again if I’m in the mood for something a little more serious than usual – but I still think it could have been better!

Related Links

Later Michelle Pfeiffer films that I loved are Stardust and Hairspray

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