The Russia House

In this laudably ambitious film version of John le Car's labyrinthine spy novel, Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer attempt to make something sexy of moral rehabilitation. Well, if anybody can do it . . . Connery plays Barley Blair, a burned-out British book publisher more interested in his next bender than the global balance of power. Pfeiffer is Katya, a Soviet editor willing to risk her life to help her scientist friend Dante (Klaus Maria Brandauer) smuggle his vital notebooks to the West. She turns to Blair, who unexpectedly finds his ardor and his conscience stirred by her commitment to peace. Blair is then exploited by British and American intelligence agents determined to keep the chill on the Cold War, and the hell with glasnost.

Tom Stoppard's screenplay does little to uncomplicate the plot, leaving the skilled director Fred Schepisi (Roxanne, A Cry in the Dark) struggling to charge a herd of bloodless bureaucrats with dramatic life. Despite Ian Baker's stunning photography in Moscow and Leningrad and a keen turn from James Fox, as a Brit spy master, the film often lulls when it means to challenge. It helps that Connery captures the "splendid quiet" that le CarrT found in Blair. And Pfeiffer, who gets more subtle and incisive with each film, is incandescent as Katya, the kind of woman to whom a man might say, as Blair does, "You are my only country now." At its best, The Russia House offers a rare and enthralling spectacle: the resurrection of buried hopes.

From The Archives Issue 175: December 5, 1974
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