Rakesh's movie talk
Russia House, The (1990)

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Directed by Fred Schepisi
Written by Tom Stoppard (Based on novel by John Le Carre)
Starring Sean Connery, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Fox and Roy Scheider


Based on spy novel by John Le Carre, the spy yarn brought not only groans, but yawns from movie goers and critics alike. Renowned critic Roger Ebert said this at the opening of his review on The Russia House.

It takes a lot of patience to watch "The Russia House," but it takes even more patience to be a character in the movie. To judge by this film, the life of a Cold War spy consists of sitting for endless hours in soundproof rooms with people you do not particularly like, waiting for something to happen. Sort of like being a movie critic

That may, in a way, summarise the experience of watching this movie. Films like this usually are very dependent on strong characterisation and great dialogue to help with the pace. Witness Glengarry Glen Ross, which is basically a talking movie consisting of a bunch of good and has-been property sales guys. But the movie ran on rapid speed, so fast that when its over you will blink in surprise. The Russia House didn't have that luxury. It lacked deeply in the dialogue department and the prime mover of this movie is the cast.

Connery is fresh from being declared, at the age of 59, the sexiest man alive by People's magazine. He grumbled, "I know very few who are dead." Cool. Anyway, People magazine is giving away this title every year and sells their magazine like 'goreng pisang'. Sorry, that was a very Malaysian expression.

So, what I am saying is Connery never makes it a point to flaunt his 'sexiness'. Here he plays a boozing tired looking publisher who one day receives a technical manuscript from Russia, through the beautiful and doubtful Katya played to perfection by Michelle Pfeiffer. The books contain military secrets and is penned by scientist Dante played by Klaus Maria Brandauer. This gets the intelligence community from UK and USA interested. Very interested, as to knowing whether they are the genuine stuff. Connery's Blair is forced to work with them, and unwittingly he finds himself falling in love with Katya.

I liked the interrogation scenes. Such scenes are any actors dream. Put all of them in one room and get them to whack each other off with great lines. I believe this is the only moment the script worked well. Of course, majority of credit goes to Connery, James Fox and Roy Scheider who plays representative from the intelligence community. Rest of the movie is nothing much but travelogue and introduction of post Glasnost Russia


There's a bit of parallel - which I manufactured myself - between this movie and my favourite Bond movie, From Russia With Love. I mean, something more than the title. There is a bait both in form of thing (manuscript in this and cipher machine in Bond), beautiful woman (Katya and Tanya in Bond) and of course Sean Connery. Not much, eh? Of course, I can sit down, tear both movies to their bones and compare one by one. It will only serve to spoil the fun.

This is one of those overlooked movies that the Academy Award has collected over the years. That is, in terms of the performance and the cinematography. I would usually be angry for that, but here I need to understand the situation. I could watch this film mainly for Connery, and of course, the delicious Ms. Pfeiffer. But what about the non-fans of these actors. What about the academy members who likes to give awards to performances that had loads of depression, or to roles that has some defect on some part of the body? Wait, am I getting cranky?

Okay, I admit it. The movie is freaking slow. The reason why many never remember this movie is simply they might have slept after ten minutes. They would have got up and thought, "wait, I thought I saw a Connery movie. There was Michelle Pfeiffer in it. Or am I dreaming? If so, what am I doing in this movie theatre. Where am I? Help, I've been kidnaped by alien!"

Right. Well, I tried reading the book first. I should have known....