For having the names John le Carre and Tom Stoppard attached, and the pedigree of a Golden Bear win, The Russia House is a pretty sub-standard film. Director Fred Schepisi – probably best known for Six Degrees of Separation or Roxanne – throws in a few flourishes, but Stoppard’s adaptation is a bit leaden. The fact that it’s billed as a thriller and plays out far more as a romance doesn’t help things.
Sean Connery is Barley, a publisher who falls for Michelle Pfeiffer’s Katya (bad accent and all), and finds himself in the midst of a plot to smuggle secrets out of Russia.
Schepisi has some good ideas. A crosscut between Katya and her kids and Barley taking a lie detector test begins with fun graphic matches. Katya buckles her kid’s schoolbag while Barley has his finger strapped into the machine:
The problem is that he doesn’t extend the moment to draw out the parallel (both are living in a world under surveillance, one directly so, the other subtly so) and it becomes clunky as the crosscut exits as soon as it enters:
Here’s a visual moment that I liked through and through. Katya and Barley walk in the park with her kid in a wide-shot. The kid runs off-
-and Schepisi uses the opportunity to cut to her and allow her youthful momentum to bring us out to the gorgeous square:
I like this moment because it brings us out to a location of interest before the characters. We follow a kid who is carefree and we run out along with her…though what “we” (Katya and Barley) are doing is far more dangerous.
Who okayed this tie on Roy Schedier?
The Big Fix
I’m entirely unfamiliar with Jeremy Kagan’s other work as director. I know of The Sting II, but have never seen it. He doesn’t really impress with The Big Fix. Richard Dreyfuss hams it up as Moses Wine, a private investigator brought into a political smear case that turns to murder, and Bill Conti’s score is really aggravating in its swells and over-presence.
There are moments when Kagan’s film feels like a drenched neo-noir in the style of (and preceding) contemporaries American Gigolo or Tequila Sunrise:
Unfortunately those moments are few and far between. Roger L. Simon’s source novel seems packed with great ideas – a faded radical now manning a poolside grill as his three kids run around; a divorcee investigator who uses his kids and mom to help him with the case; but these moments are fleeting and outdone by weak performances and a poorly presented twist.
Still, I enjoyed some of the small blocking. Here’s Wine opposite his employer Sam Sebastian (the always awesome John Lithgow!):
The small movements of the two men around one another is nicely done in the small space. I also quite like how Kagan plays with Lithgow’s height advantage, bringing him up and down at strategic times. It stresses to me how an object – in this case, the desk – can really help blocking by giving characters something to lean on, sit on, and walk around.