The Russia House (film)

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The Russia House
Russia house poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Fred Schepisi
Produced by Paul Maslansky
Neil Canton
Fred Schepisi
Screenplay by Tom Stoppard
Based on The Russia House 
by John le Carré
Starring Sean Connery
Michelle Pfeiffer
Roy Scheider
James Fox
John Mahoney
J. T. Walsh
Klaus Maria Brandauer
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography Ian Baker
Edited by Beth Jochem Besterveld
Peter Honess
Production
company
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • December 25, 1990 (1990-12-25)
Running time 122 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $22,998,000 (USA)

The Russia House is a 1990 American spy film directed by Fred Schepisi. Tom Stoppard wrote the screenplay based on John le Carré's novel of the same name. The film stars Sean Connery, Michelle Pfeiffer, Roy Scheider, James Fox, John Mahoney, and Klaus Maria Brandauer.

It was filmed on location in the Soviet Union, only the second American motion picture (the first being the 1988 film Red Heat)[1] to do so before its dissolution in 1991.

Plot[edit]

Bartholomew "Barley" Scott Blair (Sean Connery), the head of a British publishing firm, is on a business trip to Moscow. He attends a writers' retreat near Peredelkino where he speaks of an inevitable New World Order and an end to tensions with the West. Attentively listening is a man called Dante (Goethe in the novel) (Klaus Maria Brandauer), who wants to be convinced that Barley means what he says. It transpires that Dante is in fact a renowned physicist who has secretly written a manuscript detailing the Soviet Union's nuclear missile capabilities.

A few months later, unable to locate Barley at a sales fair, a beautiful young Soviet woman named Katya Orlova (Michelle Pfeiffer) asks another publishing company's representative, Niki Landau (Nicholas Woodeson), to pass along a very important manuscript. Niki sneaks a look at the manuscript and delivers it to British government authorities.

British intelligence officers and American CIA officers track Barley to his holiday flat in Lisbon, Portugal and interrogate him to see how he knows Katya. They realize he is as much in the dark as they are. MI6 agent Ned (James Fox), gives him some fundamental training as a spy. The MI6 officers realize that the manuscript is of vital importance to the USA, so they start working with the CIA, with both agencies wanting Barley to work on their behalf.

Barley returns to the Soviet Union to seek out Dante and confirm that he is genuine. He meets with Katya, with whom he is instantly smitten. Through her, he confirms that Dante is a brilliant scientist whose actual name is Yakov. He also denies to Katya's face that he is a spy.

The British run the operation through its first phase, while informing the CIA of its results. The CIA team, headed by Russell (Roy Scheider), is concerned because the manuscript states that the Soviet nuclear missile program is in complete disarray, and therefore there's no real reason for an arms race to continue.

Katya sets up a face-to-face meeting with "Dante," going to great lengths to avoid being followed. Barley explains that the sensitive manuscript is now in the hands of British and American authorities. Yakov feels betrayed, but Barley convinces him that the manuscript can still be published, which was the author's objective in the first place.

Dante is clearly disappointed by Barley's trust of the authorities, explaining that government people (of whatever country) are only driven by their own interests, not caring about simple people. Nevertheless, Dante gives Barley another volume of the manuscript after Barley assures him that he's sympathetic to the cause.

Impressed by the additional volume, Russell's boss Brady (John Mahoney) and a U.S. military officer named Quinn (J.T. Walsh) personally question Barley, wanting to be certain where his loyalties lie. Russell then travels to London to monitor Barley's progress. He declares that he would help the British operation out of a true ideological belief in Glasnost, although this would not be good news to his "customers" of the weapons industry, who need an arms race for continued prosperity.

Convinced that Dante's manuscripts are truthful, the CIA and MI6 come up with a list of questions (a so-called "shopping list"), which is meant to extract as much information of the USSR as Dante could provide. On that point, irregularities begin to emerge, but the joint British-American team rationalizes them, except for Barley's "Russia House" handler Ned, who senses something amiss.

Barley, by now fully in love with Katya, wants to keep nothing from her; he admits that he is spying. Katya, in return, confirms that Yakov is not acting like himself, fearing that he may be under KGB observation or control. She gives Barley the address where Yakov will be staying when he is in Moscow.

Barley is under full British-American surveillance as he takes the shopping list to Yakov's apartment. Ned suddenly concludes that the Soviets know all about the operation and that they only let it run because they want to put their hands on the list. He realizes that if they get the questions, they will know exactly what the British and Americans know - just based on what they were asking.

Ned is now convinced that Barley has made a deal to turn over the questions to the USSR. Russell disagrees with Ned completely and instructs the assignment to proceed as planned. The British-American team expects the meeting with Yakov to last 2–3 hours, but when Barley doesn't return after 7 hours, Russell must admit that he was wrong. They must now do damage control, pretending that the questions were deliberately false.

Barley, meanwhile, has left a note for Ned. Barley explains that during a prearranged phone call to Katya, Yakov used a code word to let her know that he has been compromised by the KGB, and that her life is also in danger. To save Katya, Barley has traded the shopping list to the Russians in exchange for the freedom of Katya's family. He admits to the British and Americans that it might be unfair, but as he writes to Ned: "You shouldn't open other people's letters."

Barley returns to his flat in Lisbon, where he waits for a ship to dock that brings Katya and her family to begin a new life with him.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

The Russia House was filmed on location in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia,[2] the first major American production to be filmed substantially in the Soviet Union.[1] The final scenes were filmed on location in Lisbon, Portugal.

Soundtrack[edit]

The Russia House
Film score by Jerry Goldsmith
Released 11 December 1990
Recorded 1990
Genre Soundtrack
Length 61:34
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Filmtracks 5/5 stars link

The critically acclaimed music to The Russia House was composed and conducted by veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith. The score featured a unique mixture of Russian music and jazz to complement the nationalities and characteristics of the two main characters. The soundtrack was released 11 December 1990 through MCA Records and features seventeen tracks of score at a running time just over sixty-one minutes.[3] The score also features Branford Marsalis on saxophone.

  1. "Katya" (3:57)
  2. "Introductions" (3:12)
  3. "The Conversation" (4:13)
  4. "Training" (2:01)
  5. "Katya and Barley" (2:32)
  6. "First Name, Yakov" (2:53)
  7. "Bon Voyage" (2:11)
  8. "The Meeting" (3:59)
  9. "I'm With You" (2:39)
  10. "Alone in the World" (4:09) - performed by Patti Austin
  11. "The Gift" (2:34)
  12. "Full Marks" (2:27)
  13. "Barley's Love" (3:24)
  14. "My Only Country" (4:34)
  15. "Crossing Over" (4:13)
  16. "The Deal" (4:09)
  17. "The Family Arrives" (7:38)

Reception[edit]

The Russia House currently holds a score of 73% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 15 reviews,[4] indicating a generally positive critical reception.

Hal Hinson in the Washington Post wrote: "Making a picture about the political situation in a country as much in flux as the Soviet Union can be disastrous, but the post-glasnost realities here seem plausible and up to the minute. The Russia House doesn't sweep you off your feet; it works more insidiously than that, flying in under your radar. If it is like any of its characters, it's like Katya. It's reserved, careful to declare itself but full of potent surprises. It's one of the year's best films."[5] Peter Travers in Rolling Stone wrote: "At its best, The Russia House offers a rare and enthralling spectacle: the resurrection of buried hopes."[6] Time Out less enthusiastically wrote: "Overtaken by East-West events, and with an over-optimistic ending which sets personal against political loyalty, it's still highly enjoyable, wittily written, and beautiful to behold in places, at others somehow too glossy for its own good."[7]

Tom Stoppard's adapted screenplay was criticised by Vincent Canby in the New York Times: "There is evidence of Mr. Stoppard's wit in the dialogue, but the lines are not easily spoken, which is not to say that they are unspeakable. They are clumsy."[8] Roger Ebert held a similar view in the Chicago Sun-Times: "What's good are the few emotional moments that break out of the weary spy formula: Connery declaring his love for Pfeiffer, or the British and Americans getting on each other's nerves. But these flashes of energy are isolated inside a screenplay that is static and boring, that drones on lifelessly through the le Carré universe, like some kind of space probe that continues to send back random information long after its mission has been accomplished."[9]

Sean Connery was praised for his portrayal of Barley, "bluff, incorrigible, jazz-loving... his finest performance in ages."[7] Variety wrote: "As the flawed, unreliable publisher, Connery is in top form."[1] Peter Travers in Rolling Stone thought he captured "the 'splendid quiet' that le Carré found in Blair."[6] Hal Hinson in the Washington Post wrote: "This may be the most complex character Connery has ever played, and without question it's one of his richest performances. Connery shows the melancholy behind Barley's pickled charm, all the wasted years and unkept promises."[5] Desson Howe, also in the Washington Post, wrote: "Sean Connery, like Anthony Quinn, takes a role like a vitamin pill, downs it, then goes about his bighearted business of making the part his idiosyncratic own."[10] However, he received criticism from the New York Times, who thought that the "usually magnetic Mr. Connery... is at odds with Barley, a glib, lazy sort of man who discovers himself during this adventure. Mr. Connery goes through the movie as if driving in second gear."[8]

Michelle Pfeiffer also garnered critical plaudits for delivering "the film's most persuasive performance... Miss Pfeiffer, sporting a credible Russian accent, brings to it a no-nonsense urgency that is missing from the rest of the movie,"[8] according to the New York Times. Desson Howe in the Washington Post wrote: "As Katya, a mother who risks her love to smuggle a document and falls for a Westerner in the process, her gestures are entirely believable, her accent (at least to one set of Western ears) is quietly perfect."[10] Peter Travers in Rolling Stone wrote that "Pfeiffer, who gets more subtle and incisive with each film, is incandescent as Katya."[6] Hal Hinson in the Washington Post congratulated her for portraying a rounded character: "Her triumph goes beyond her facility with the Russian accent; other actresses could have done that. She's great at playing contradictions, at being tough yet yielding, cloaked yet open, direct yet oblique. What's she's playing, we suspect, is the great Russian game of hide-and-seek. But Pfeiffer gives it a personal dimension. Katya holds herself in check, but her wariness, one senses, is as much personal as it is cultural -- the result, perhaps, of her own secret wounds. It's one of the year's most full-blooded performances."[5] However, Pfeiffer also had her detractors. Variety thought that her "Russian accent proves very believable but she has limited notes to play."[1] Time Out wrote that "Pfeiffer can act, but her assumption of a role for which her pouty glamour is inappropriate - a Russian office-worker seen rubbing shoulders in the bus queues - is a jarring note."[7]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Fred Schepisi was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival.[11][12]

Michelle Pfeiffer was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama, but lost to Kathy Bates in Misery (1990).[12]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "The Russia House Review". variety.com. January 1, 1990. Retrieved 2009-11-17. 
  2. ^ "The Russia House (1990) - Filming locations". imdb.com. Retrieved 2009-11-16. 
  3. ^ The Russia House soundtrack review at Filmtracks.com. Retrieved 2011-03-18.
  4. ^ "The Russia House Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 2009-11-17. 
  5. ^ a b c Hinson, Hal (December 21, 1990). "'The Russia House' (R)". washingtonpost.com. 
  6. ^ a b c Travers, Peter (January 10, 1991). "The Russia House : Review : Rolling Stone". rollingstone.com. 
  7. ^ a b c "The Russia House Review - Film - Time Out London". timeout.com. Retrieved 2009-11-17. 
  8. ^ a b c Canby, Vincent (December 19, 1990). "Movie Review - The Russia House". movies.nytimes.com. 
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 21, 1990). "The Russia House :: rogerebert.com". rogerebert.suntimes.com. 
  10. ^ a b Howe, Desson (December 21, 1990). "'The Russia House' (R)". washingtonpost.com. 
  11. ^ "Berlinale: 1991 Programme". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2011-03-26. 
  12. ^ a b "The Russia House (1990) - Awards". imdb.com. Retrieved 2009-11-16.