The Russia House (Schepisi, 1990) and The Big Fix (Kagan, 1978)

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:

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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:

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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-

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-and Schepisi uses the opportunity to cut to her and allow her youthful momentum to bring us out to the gorgeous square:

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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?

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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:

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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!):

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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.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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