A filmmaking tour de force and 'the year's most sophisticated, suspenseful and sexy entertainment (Cosmopolitan), The Russia House stars OscarÂ(r) winner* Sean Connery and OscarÂ(r) nominee** Michelle Pfeiffer as two peop... more »le caught in a web of spies and politics, whose love could prove fatal to them both. When Katya (Pfeiffer), a beautiful Russian book editor, attempts to send British publisher Barley Blair (Connery) a manuscript written by a noted Soviet scientist, she unwittingly draws them both into a world of international espionage. The manuscript, which contains information that could alter the balance of world power, is intercepted by the West's spy-masters who then send Blair to Russia to gain more information on the mysterious document. But when Blair meets Katya, he finds himself torn between his mission and the woman whose passion for her countryand for Blairknows no bounds.« less
A Terrific & Intelligent Spy Thriller & Love Story!
Barron Laycock | Temple, New Hampshire United States | 07/08/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Like the other movies originating from the unchallenged master of the intelligent spy thriller John LeCarre, this one is a really a sophisticated thriller exposing the hidden, complicated, and conflicted corners of an individual's human heart. "The Russia House" represented a formidable new challenge for LeCarre, so suddenly deprived of the spy-thriller heaven of the cold war he had built his career describing. But here he has mined fresh new tunnels of insight into the cunning, deceit, and betrayal that is the stuff of real-life espionage. At the same time, this movie also weaves a quite memorable love story in the spaces squeezed between the two sides. Barley Blair (Sean Connery), the failing boozehound scion of a collapsing British publishing house with a love for everything Russian, happens by drunken though eloquent happenstance to inspire a famous Soviet scientist into attempting to sneak his manuscript detailing the real sorry state of Russian ICBM capabilities into the hands of the West in order to foster a recognition of the folly of the arms race and to end what he calls "the great lie". The scientist attempts to contact Blair, but through a series of mishaps rivaling the deeds of the keystone cops winds up landing the manuscript in the hands of the British Secret Service. So they soon want Barley to intercede with the Russian contact point (Michelle Pfeiffer) to find out who the author of the manuscript is and thus determine its authenticity. So Barley pursues the beautiful but conflicted contact, an idealistic angel of mercy who soon sparks Barley's love interest and paternal concern. The game is afoot. The movie is gorgeously photographed on a number of locations throughout Russia, and the travelogue-like tour through Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Minsk is spellbinding. Likewise, the acting is top notch, with Roy Scheider, James Fox, and a whole welter of distinguished British actors lending presence and gravity to this intelligent thriller. As is usual, the plot takes off slowly but builds to a mind-boggling series of intertwining activities one has to pay attention to understand. Before long we recognize the familiar murderous games set into motion with deadly earnest by the Brits, the Americans, and the Russians, none of whom give a rattler's damn about Barley, the contact, or the scientist. This is a stunning, suspenseful, and somewhat rueful tale of what unfolds when we discover that there is a real possibility that the so-called Soviet ICBM threat is a sham, that the missiles cannot escape their silos, that their ability to achieve trajectory or destroy targets with any accuracy is vastly over-rated. And as one can expect from LeCarre's shadowy and complex geopolitical world of espionage and power, there are no simple answers or easy foregone conclusions. This is a wonderful movie, which in my opinion is quite under-rated. It has the ring of more real-life veracity and worldly wisdom than one can easily find on the non-fiction side of the movie theater aisle. Enjoy!"
A welcome change from overwrought missions impossible
Joseph Haschka | Glendale, CA USA | 02/15/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When the rusty Iron Curtain disintegrated during Gorbachev's glasnost, Hollywood filmmakers finally got access to the image-rich expanse of Mother Russia for location shoots. Whereas before, when scenes of "Moscow" or "Leningrad" were actually filmed in, say, Helsinki, now American theatergoers can gaze upon the real thing. On viewing THE RUSSIA HOUSE for the first time, I was thrilled to see the onion domes and other architectural glories of Moscow and Suzdal, which I had seen in person several years before.Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer are Barley and Katya in the screen adaptation of John le Carré's novel of the same title. Barney is the world-weary and alcoholic London publisher to whom a book manuscript is smuggled by the Russian Katya, a woman Barley claims most emphatically not to know. Since the document is actually a survey of the status of Soviet defense weaponry, the British Secret Service, which intercepted the manuscript, views Barley's disclaimer as tepid at best. After intense questioning, and a call upon his loyalty to Queen and Empire, Barley is persuaded to return to Moscow to meet Katya, and determine her source of information. The latter turns out to be Dante, a well-respected physicist embedded in the Soviet defense establishment, who is known to British intelligence and is also Katya's boyfriend. Finally realizing the identity and potential value of the contact, MI6 approaches the CIA with a proposal for a continuing joint operation using Barley as the field agent. The moneyed Americans, of course, insist on playing the dominant mission controller, relegating the Brits to the role of interested observer.A criticism of this film was that it's too boring. Not so, if one accepts and understands that le Carré's plots are not action oriented by design. Rather, they revolve around character evolution and relatively subtle confrontations that are more intellectual and psychological than physical. Le Carré's books are, admittedly, an acquired taste, and not for the shallow-minded. The filmed version of THE RUSSIA HOUSE is true to its literary roots. There are here no feats of 007-like derring-do confounding the evildoers on missions impossible. The storyline unfolds at a comparatively sedate, realistic pace. The casting was perfect. Veterans Connery and Pfeiffer are magnificent together. The latter's portrayal of a Slavic damsel-in-distress is especially convincing. James Fox as the urbane, gentlemanly MI6 controller serves as the perfect foil to the abrasive, take-no-prisoners (stereotypically Yank) attitude of his CIA counterpart, played by Roy Scheider. Klaus Brandauer as Dante is appropriately enigmatic. The location cinematography is visually sumptuous. After awhile, one gets weary of the steady diet of action spy thrillers that rampage across the silver screen. As a change of gait, THE RUSSIA HOUSE is supremely satisfying, especially the bittersweet ending. I loved it."
Russia House -->Terrific!
firstname.lastname@example.org | 10/15/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Although I have not seen the DVD (it hasn't been released yet) I have watched the VHS version at least 40 times. A spy movie set during the Cold War, The Russia House stars Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer. Connery is a British publisher, Barley Scott Blair, who is sent manuscripts by a Russian woman named Katya (Pfeiffer). However, the manuscripts are intercepted by British intelligence and are analysis of the Soveit Empire's nuclear capabilities. Blaire is convinced to play the role of spy for the British, and he must befirend Katya in order find the author of the manuscripts (the mysterious Dante.) As the story unfolds, Blaire and Katya grow closer to each other, and Blair soon finds himself trapped between the loyalties he has to his mother country and to Katya.
This is an extremely terrific movie, but is also very confusing. I had to watch it 7 times before the plot really made sense to me, but once I understood what was going on, it was a joy to watch it over and over again. This is not one of Connery's most famous works, but it is certainly one of his best. Reprising his role as spy, Connery does a much better job of it than as James Bond. Michelle Pfeiffer is similary convincing as Katya, who is caught in between the politics of Russia and Britan.
I whole heartedly recommend this movie, but I do caution anyone who has not seen it before to rent it first. A DVD version is long overdue and still the features the DVD will have are only subtitles and widescreen, which is perfect for some of the beautiful landscape scenes in Russia."
Checking Out The Cracks in Glasnost
Stephanie DePue | Carolina Beach, NC USA | 03/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The movie "Russia House," starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer, is based on the spy novel of the same name, by that master spy-meister, the British John LeCarre. It's a very acute look at Russia, just as their "Glasnost," policy of openness begins to end --but not quite-- the cold war. The talented British playwright Tom Stoppard adapted the script, largely faithful to the novel. The respected director Fred Schepisi helmed. Like most of the movies adapted from LeCarre's oeuvre, it reflects his extraordinary abilities with plotting and dialogue. Though, mind you, the dialogue is quite mannered, as also reflects LeCarre's works, not to mention Stoppard's.
The plot, set in London, Russia, and some other glamorous continental cities, concerns an informant, unknown to the British Secret Service, MI5, who has suddenly popped up, in this period of glasnost, with very valuable, top secret data as to the Russian military's preparedness. The Secret Service doesn't quite know what to make of it, so they press Scott Barley Blair (Sean Connery), an alcoholic publisher specializing in Russian subjects, into service. He's to go to Russia (several times, it turns out) to locate this most secret of spies. Along the way, he meets and falls in love with Michelle Pfeiffer, never better as an actress, nor more beautiful, as a single mother who works in publishing.
The movie shows us quite a lot of snow, and life as it was lived in Russia at the time. The everyday struggles for the underprivileged, as Pfeiffer's character, despite her glamorous job,is. Three generations living cramped in a tiny apartment, the queuing for necessities, the difficulty of obtaining new clothes, and, as for shoes, forget it. The privileges of the privileged: the nice cars, the dachas (the greatly-desired country homes), the designer duds. It further deals with the usual suspicions between the British and American secret services. Finally, it gives us an honest, unsensationalized, non-mawkish view of middle-aged love, though it is burdened with a Hollywood happy ending that you won't find in the book.
In this movie, Sir Sean Connery shows us a side of him we don't often see: tenderness. His sax-playing among Russian friends (voiced by Branford Marsalis), is quite moving. Also on view is that sly Scottish sense of humor Connery spices his movies, and his conversations with: I once interviewed the man, in his trailer on New York's Fifth Avenue, while he was making some film or another: and his humor was so sly, my editor complained that it was a boring article. Oh well, I guess you had to be there.
As to the rest of the cast, Michelle Pfeiffer does very well, as mentioned above. Klaus Maria Brandauer also stands out as "Dante," the most unusual secret Russian informant. There was also some money spent on the supporting cast: Americans J.T. Walsh, Roy Scheider, John Mahoney. Brits, Ian McNeice, James Fox, Michael Kitchen, David Threlfall.
"Russia House" was written, and filmed, at the optimum time for its plot, and thereby acquires a resonance it might otherwise not have had. It was a lucky break for author, filmmakers, and us. "
The Turbid Glass Curtain
Mr. Cairene | Cairo, Egypt | 01/02/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
""Crowds are good, if you're moving. Open spaces are good. Talk in the street, if you have to. Never talk in a car or a hotel room, except for the benefit of their microphones" says the British agent Ned (James Fox) to Barley Blair(Sean Connery), a somewhat reluctant participant in the supposedly anesthetized espionage scene circa Glasnost. Blair is a civilian, a publisher in love with Russia and its writers. He had joined them in what is affectionately named the "writer's village" somewhere in this excitingly open Russia, where he and this select group of boozy intellectuals had discussed saving the world between lunch and dinner. His idealism was noted. An intermediary, Katya (Michelle Pfieffer) sends him a book, authored by a man known as Dante (as in Dante's Inferno) that relegates the Soviet Nuclear threat, and consequently the arms race with the United States to the toilet. British Intelligence get hold of the book before Blare does. And so begins another complex chapter in John Le Carre's quest to eliminate the mythic nobility of espionage, and magnify those who are caught in the crossfire. Dante, played superbly by German actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, must have read quite a few of Le Carre's novels, he doesn't trust Western intelligence or intelligence people at all for that matter. To him, they are all "gray men" and in a moving scene, he recounts how gray men, never to be heard from again apprehended and killed his father. He knows that Blair will be working for British Intelligence, but he will deal only with a civilian, a "Joe agent". Meanwhile, Katya, extremely beautiful in a haggard Russian sort of way develops a liking to the rusty charmer Blair. Katya had been Dante's lover back in their student days. And a quietly touching love triangle develops as a counterpoint to the all the arcane goings on.The Russia House comes with an exceptional filmmaking pedigree. The schizophrenic director Fred Schepisi was on his talented side coming off the powerful A Cry in the Dark. He furnishes Le Carre's distinctive world with the pre-requisite amount of oak lined rooms, sedate men smoking, talking, drinking hard liquor in ice filled high-quality glassware, while the scent of betrayal hovers. The script by English playwright Tom Stoppard wisely avoids suffocating the film with unsolicited suspense scenes to makes the film more commercial or accessible. This is a talky, demanding, plot heavy film. The whole thing is laced with a memorable, jazzy Jerry Goldsmith score that perfectly underscores the photogenic Lisbon, Leningrad and Moscow (where most of the film is set.) Several stellar performances are to be found among the supporting cast. Namely Roy Schieder (himself a veteran of such spy films as Marathon Man) as the foul mouthed CIA attaché, who in some scenes is called upon to explain the labyrinthine plot. On the British side, in genius bit of casting, director Ken Russell plays Walter, the eccentric, cynical "character", who seems disgusted to have to explain the mechanics and the subtleties to all those cold war rookies. These characters more then makes up for the absence of Smiley, who Le Carre veterans would remember as the looming figure whose sinister fingerprints are mostly felt in his absence. The film's problems are more central. As Blair, Connery gives what is easily one his best performances. But he is still Sean Connery, sometimes shaken, never stirred. He is supposed to be equal parts charmer and a washout, but when he describes himself as a "walking unmade bed", you can't help but smile. This being Le Carre territory, you shouldn't. The performance pales in comparison to Richard Burton's haunting Alec Leamus in Martin Ritt's incomparable 1965 masterpiece The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. I couldn't help but think that an actor like Albert Finney would have brought much needed pathos to the part. The pathos, or lack thereof is part of the film's larger problem. For all what is at stake in the end, The Russia House doesn't have that palpable sense of doom that permeated the 1965 film. The enemy here are those who would still profit from the cold war. They are fought in elegant offices on the Western side of things, not grim debriefing rooms behind the iron curtain. This probably makes the film more relevant. It also makes for far less compelling drama."