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The Russia House Review

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Barley Blair, a boozy, world-weary publisheris drafted by MI-something to smuggle a top secret manuscript from a Soviet scientific genius out to the West. His liaison in Moscow turns out to be beautiful and intriguing and all is not as it seems…

★★★★★

Fred Schepisi's attempt to revitalise the espionage thriller is an attractive package, scripted by Tom Stoppard out of John Le Carré, shot on locations including Moscow and Leningrad, with no expense spared on Names and Faces. Unfortunately, the content is as exciting as a pair of socks.

Sean Connery plays Barley Blair, a boozy, world-weary publisher and a far cry from Bond. To his bewilderment he is drafted by MI-something to smuggle a top secret manuscript from a Soviet scientific genius out to the West. His liaison in Moscow is not "the usual fat-assed frump" he expects, but, er, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Needless to say, it all gets very complicated, what with sex, intrigue, global power struggles and all. Despite some smart, brittle dialogue and the classy cast, this seldom rises above the routine, bogging down badly mid-film in genre clichesand double talk. All the espionage chaps are, of course, bitter, twisted, cynical and devious, with the CIA guys frightfully coarse and given to exclamations like "Shit City!" to register displeasure while the British Intelligence coves are well-dressed, languid and say things like "Awfully sorry, old boy, we've moved the goal posts a bit", except for Ken Russell who plays a camp Sovietologist and provides incontrovertible proof that directors really can't act.

Connery is Connery and plays with dignified authority but one cannot help feeling he is finally getting that bit long in the tooth to be chewing Pfeiffer. She tries hard not to look too ridiculously pretty and fails, but has a fair go at doing a Meryl with a Russian accent. Even forgetting the turnovers in real Soviet/Western relations, however, The Russia House just seems tired and terribly 60's: one keeps expecting Michael Caine's Harry Palmer to enter stage left for a martini with Connery, who, after all, started the craze for this sort of thing 30 years ago. Alas, it used to be a lot more fun.

Despite some smart, brittle dialogue and the classy cast, this seldom rises above the routine and is basically a bittired and terribly 60's