1990's, Drama, Fred Schepisi, James Fox, John Le Carre, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Roy Scheider, Sean Connery, Spy, The Russia House, Thriller
The Russia House
- Sean Connery as Barley Blair
- Michelle Pfeiffer as Katya Orlova
- Roy Scheider as Russell
- James Fox as Ned
- Klaus Maria Brandauer as Dante
Based on the book by John Le Carre, The Russia House is a slow-burning spy film with danger, love and politics all coming to the forefront. Relying on old-school spy conventions such as secret meetings and the handling of touchy information rather than shoot-outs and car chases, The Russia House weaves excellent performances, lushly romantic music provided by Jerry Goldsmith and Cold War intrigue into a smooth and complex thriller, that boasts stunning and authentic locations of Russian cities and monuments.
Barley Blair is the hard-drinking and irascible head of a publishing firm who has a special interest in Russia. At one of his writer’s conventions in Moscow, he is spoken to by a mysterious stranger called Dante who listens to Barley talk of tension easing with the West. The meeting at first seems like nothing, but it sets in motion a series of dangerous events. A month later, a manuscript is brought to Barley, after being intercepted by the British Government. The manuscript was sent by a Russian book editor named Katya, who insisted it get to Barley immediately. It transpires that the manuscript contains sensitive and explosive information that could alter the course of power between various countries. Barley is then reluctantly hired by the Government in a co-operation with the CIA to track down Dante and find out if the work is genuine or a dubious political pawn. He arrives in Russia where he is met by Katya, a beautiful and sensitive mother of two who is the linchpin between Barley and Dante. But nothing is as it seems and the case gets more complicated, especially as Barley and Katya fall deeply in love in the process.
If it’s chase sequences, fights and fast cars, then The Russia House may not be for you. But if it’s a slow-burning and subtle spy film with a style reminiscent of old 60’s spy films, then The Russia House will most certainly appeal to you. The use of the beautiful sites of Moscow and St. Petersburg are stunningly shot. Jerry Goldsmith contributes an evocative and smooth jazz score that accentuates the growing attraction between the reluctant Barley and the guarded Katya. In the leading role, Sean Connery expertly shows us a man who has nothing to gain but ends up losing his heart in the process. He exudes a weariness and reluctance rarely seen in his performances. Matching him every step of the way is the excellent Michelle Pfeiffer, who radiates warmth, beauty but a certain guarded and moving quality. Her Russian accent is a supremely convincing asset to her talent. It is through Katya that Barley and Dante are linked, and we realise the life risking tasks she has undertaken to see Barley. The chemistry between the two crackles with excellent dialogue as we watch them slowly develop deep feelings for one another. Supporting them is Roy Scheider and James Fox as the heads of Government and the CIA, their scenes together show a humorous quality as they often debate the next move in the complex case. As Dante, Klaus Maria Brandauer presents a mysterious figures whose motives are never made entirely clear until the case begins to unwind.
If you’re a fan of Le Carre adaptations and the pace of them, The Russia House is the film for you. A superb espionage thriller with a Cold War sensibility and believable romance, enlivened by two outstanding performances from Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer.
An undervalued film for my money Vinnieh and with a great score by Jerry Goldsmith (more than once he called it his favourite). Lots of great dialogue and a fantastic cast of supporting character actors (none better than Roy Scheider) – and apart from the slightly less ambiguous ending, very faithful too.
Thanks, totally agree with it being an undervalued film.
Paul S said:
Everything about this film is beautiful. From the incomparable Michelle Pfeiffer to the buildings and settings. In fact Moscow, St Petersburg, and Portugal are so impressive they threaten to overwhelm the story.
I tend to agree with Cavershamragu about the ending. I thought it was was sweet, if a little unlikely?
As always thanks for the review, I’m happy we seem to have an affinity regarding the films of Michelle Pfeiffer. She really was incredible in her late 80’s/ early 90’s heyday wasn’t she?
Thanks, Pfeiffer is one of my favourite actresses.
This was on the other night in the middle of the night and my recording failed. I hate when that happens. I haven’t seen it in years, but remember liking it.
Thanks, hope you get round to seeing it soon.
Nice review Vinnieh. it made me think about seeing this film again. the last time i saw it was as a teenager and didn’t appreciate it because of the slow pace. but am much more interested in its story now.
Thanks for the comment, hope you see it again.
I liked this movie right from the time it was first released. Pfeiffer is achingly beautiful in this one, and her pairing with Connery works surprisingly well. I really like the maturity of the central relationship,and the score (as has been said) is fantastic.
Thanks for the comment, yeah I also liked the maturity in the relationship. And as you say Pfeiffer is just so beautiful.
Great write-up, Vinnie. It’s a superb movie that I hope more people discover.
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That’s my hope too. I like a good slow burning spy movie that draws attention to the people.
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