Tag Archives: espionage

AMC presents John Le Carré’s The Night Manager

John Le Carré is an interesting author, and adaptations of his work in both film and television have proved to be some of the most fascinating and top quality work, whether lush and emotional (The Constant Gardener) or cold and labyrinthine (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). He’s firmly rooted in the spy genre but has no interest in things like action, chases, stunts or needless sex like another famous but frequently hollow espionage franchise I can think of. He traffics in brilliant character development, genuine intrigue and chessboard dialogue, all of which coalesce into palpably suspenseful stories that matter.

AMC’s miniseries adaptation of his novel The Night Manager is a fantastic piece of storytelling, meticulously orchestrated, wildly exciting, laced with pathos, danger and humour that has you laughing several scenes later. Tom Hiddleston gives what has to be his best work so far as Jonathan Pine, the night manager of a Cairo hotel who meets, falls in love with and witnesses the brutal murder of a mysterious girl (Aure Atika) with ties to the Egyptian mob. He discovers that the one responsible for this act, albeit indirectly, is billionaire British arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), who he doesn’t necessarily openly declare vengeance on, but we get that notion from his anguished eyes as he looks at her corpse. Years later he gets a chance to exact some sort of plan against Roper and his organization when a plucky rogue MI6 operative (Olivia Colman) shadow recruits him to go deep cover to finally nail this biggest of fishes. So begins a deep, devilish and diabolical game of cat, mouse and spy as he gets about as close as he can to Roper, infiltrates the inner circle and finds himself right in the eye of the arms smuggling hurricane.

Hiddleston was rumoured for Bond at one point but honestly I’m glad he opted for stuff like this, his reptilian smoulder harbours a keen intelligence that blossoms with scripts that have a bit of weight to them as opposed to one liners, one night stands and explosions. He makes Pine a creature of flesh and blood who isn’t incorruptible and struggles to keep his eyes on the endgame while getting caught up with moral distractions along the way, like the plight of Roper’s elegent beau (Elizabeth Debicki, a striking actress of immense talent and one to watch out for). Laurie makes wry, mottled work of Roper and I like the unconventional casting. He apparently had the same idea as I’ve heard they had to talk him into doing the role, but I’m glad they did because he makes deft work of this verbose, colourful international monster. Scene stealer Tom Hollander gets some priceless lines in as his right hand man, and the sensational cast includes work from Alastair Petrie, Tobias Menzies, Douglas Hodge, David Harewood and more.

I think I counted zero genuine action sequences in this, save for one that serves a very specific purpose. Much of the story is dialogue, glances, meetings, arrivals, departures, clandestine sting setups and character interaction. That might prove boring to some but really it’s the meat of any story, while action should be the sauce and not the main course. Here we care about Pine and his situation from minute one, to the point that the suspense is hair raising. Each character is vividly drawn and written, the world brought to life in dimension and detail by cast and director Suzanne Bier alike. Le Carré himself is also a champion of the end result, which is an achievement in itself. A brilliant piece of television.

-Nate Hill

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Phillip Noyce and Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan: Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan has had a few iterations over the decades, the last two of which were sadly lukewarm efforts, but for my money Harrison Ford and Philip Noyce gave the best version with the explosive double feature of Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger. Star studded across the board, gifted with long runtimes, huge budgets and intelligent scripts, these are two enduring espionage films that I always have a place for on my DVD shelf and always tune in to if I come across them on TV. Ford is a heroic presence in cinema, and although his actions as Ryan are violently intrepid, he gives the character an unsure edge and resounding vulnerability that is always compelling and offsets the intrigue as great character work. This guy is an analyst after all, not a field agent and the portrayal should reflect that.

Patriot Games kicks off with Ryan in a brutal personal war against a rogue faction of the IRA, a tense conflict that reaps collateral damage on both sides. The two constant characters who ground both Ford and Ryan are his boss and mentor Greer (James Earl Jones) and his wife Cathy (Anne Archer), they keep him humble, human and sympathetic amongst all the chaos and political intrigue. Sean Bean is scary good here as Miller, renegade Irish operative whose plans are foiled early on by Jack, prompting him to swear bloody revenge on his whole family in a courtroom scene that is as chilling as Bean has ever been. Paranoia sets in as countless attempts are made against his and his families life, and even reassuring words from an IRA honcho (Richard Harris) who denounces Miller can’t set Ryan at ease. Only the eventual confrontation puts an end to it, which we get in a spectacular nocturnal speedboat chase across a Maryland harbour. The talent includes Thora Birch as Jack’s daughter, J.E. Freeman, Patrick Bergin, James Fox, Polly Walker, Bob Gunton and a young Samuel L. Jackson.

Clear & Present Danger sees the headstrong US President (Donald Moffat, never one to not devour dialogue like a good steak) declares war on marauding cartels from South America, another conflict that Ryan gets thrown into headlong both on location and back on the home front. Their leader (Miguel Sandoval) is a hotheaded moron, but the real danger lurks in Felix Cortez (Joaquim De Almeida, a spectacularly nasty villain), advisor, assassin and deadly power behind the throne who has ideas of his own. This entry is slightly more epic and action centric but the homeland espionage is played up too, particularly in the corrupt actions of two impossibly sleazy suits back in Washington played by Henry Czerny and Harris Yulin. They are so good in their roles they almost steal the film, especially Czerny as the ultimate prick and absolute last person you’d want making decisions for their country. Ford is less seething than he was in the very personal conflict of Patriot Games, but no less resourceful and violent when he needs to be. Willem Dafoe fills the boots of John Clark, a Clancy staple character and ruthless tactical agent who sometimes functions as a one man army. Further work is provided by Benjamin Bratt, Raymond Cruz, Dean Jones, Ann Magnuson, Patrick Bauchau and Hope Lange.

These two are not only great action spy films but to me represent an oasis of 90’s filmmaking that has never been replicated. Enormous casts, every dollar of the budget onscreen, timeless original scores (courtesy of James Horner here), vivid action set pieces, equal parts focus on story and action, no CGI in sight, character development and all round consistency in craft and production. I grew up with these two classics, watched them countless times with my dad and will always tune right back in whenever they’re around.

-Nate Hill

Tony Scott’s Spy Game: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Tony Scott’s Spy Game is a kinetic yet heartfelt espionage thriller that sees the director maintain considerable shards of his assaulting sensory overdrive of style, whilst pausing along the way for a story that is really rooted in the personal story of the bond and friendship between two men. A lot of his films are predominantly visual and auditory, a bullet train of sound and fury, with plot and characterization as passengers onboard. Here those elements are cogs in the machine, resulting in a very touching, extremely exciting outing and perhaps the director’s most overlooked piece. Robert Redford used to be the younger, more naive faction in a lot of cinematic pairings, especially with Paul Newman. Here he flips the coin, taking on the grizzled mantle of both father figure and mentor to Brad Pitt. Pitt is Tom Bishop, an operative taken under the wing of veteran agent Nathan D. Muir (Redford). Nathan no doubt sees some of himself in the lad, and takes a shine to him, grooming him with all the skills and cunning that a lifetime in the business has given him. Life throws curveballs though, and more often than not they involve love. Bishop has gone rogue in an attempt to rescue relief worker Elizabeth Hadley (the brilliant Catherine McCormack, who needs to be in more movies) from a Chinese prison. In his eagerness he is captured, leaving Muir to make some tough decisions, pull some hidden cards and use all of his talent and resources to extract them. Now in many films like this there would be several blistering action set pieces to show how it’s done. Scott instead chooses to give Redford the intellectual grit and subversive genius to pull hidden strings and come up with a wicked fun solution that is endlessly more satisfying than an explosion ridden shock and awe campaign. His struggle to get his friend back is laced with flashbacks of his training, with a 70’s flavour that feels authentic and writing that lovingly builds the blocks of their dynamic. Stephen Dillane provides wonderfully understated work as a quietly smarmy CIA prick, and watch for a quick appearance from the great Charlotte Rampling. To see Scott’s frenetic aesthetic hired for a script that takes its time and plays out less like a conventional thriller and more like the paced, elliptical spy thrillers of years past (vaguely reminiscent of aspects of Le Carré) is a somewhat rare treat. Terrific thriller with Redford at his best, highly, highly recommended.