Fred Schepisi, Director;
MGM Home Video; 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; English Dolby Digital Stereo, French Stereo Surround, Spanish Mono; English, French & Spanish Subtitles
This 1990 film could be said to have started Sean Connery’s career phase as a geriatric romantic lead, a role he most recently reprised with Catherine Zeta-Jones in a crime caper film so forgettable I’ve forgotten the title.
The Russia House is based on the John Le Carre novel, and is one of the best films based on his writing. The very best, of course, are the BBC group of series starring Alec Guinness as spymaster George Smiley: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Smiley’s People, and the very autobiographical A Perfect Spy (which doesn’t have Sir Alec. I’d love to have all of these on DVD).
However, this film has a very talented director in Schepisi, and the star power of Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer, who turns in a surprisingly complete and convincing performance as a Russian woman trying to get a manuscript published in the west that reveals the weakness of the post-Soviet military.
I’ve owned this film on laserdisc for years, and have actively sought the DVD for the past year or so, and recently found it at Future Shop. The reason for my desire to own it is something that overshadows even the performances, the story, and the star power: the locales. The cinematography is truly spectacular and the locations in and around Moscow and St. Petersburg, not to mention Lisbon, are breathtaking. I guess I must be a little wierd to prefer looking at the scenery rather than Michelle Pfeiffer, but, hey, in this film I get to do both, and also identify with another Scot looking for love.
Australian director Fred Schepisi showed in The Coca Cola Kid that he was a master storyteller, and that gift is abundant in The Russia House, with flashbacks making the MI5/CIA skullduggery well portrayed and dramatized. Connery’s Barley Blair is a role he relishes, showing his contempt for the American fuckups who pretend to be intelligence officers (some things never change), and ultimately he and love triumph, which is really not a surprise plot giveaway. This is one of a few films I can watch again and again, and enjoy on many levels, even to just watching the scenery. And the resolution of the DVD is much improved over the LD release, although it’s one of those films that I would dearly love to see on HDTV. Maybe some Sunday night this will happen.