“THE COMPANY” (2007) Review

443052_original

 

“THE COMPANY” (2007) Review

Within the past decade, there have been a few television and movie productions about the history of espionage during the pre-World War II era and the Cold War. One of those productions turned out to be the 2007, three-part miniseries about the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) called “THE COMPANY”.

Based upon Robert Littell’s 2002 novel, “THE COMPANY” focused upon the history of not only the C.I.A., but also the Soviet Union’s K.G.B. during the Cold War, between the mid-1950s and the fall of the Soviet Union during the beginning of the 1990s. The novel focused upon the lives of three men, who had been close friends at Yale University, who graduated in 1950. Jack McAuliffe was a Rowing athlete and naive true believer, who had been recruited by his crew coach. The same coach also recruited one of Jack’s closest friend, Leo Krinsky, the son of an Eastern European immigrant who works at the agency’s counterintelligence division. Jack and Leo have another close friend at Yale – the son of a Soviet diplomat named Yevgeny Tsipin. While attending his mother’s funeral in Moscow, Yevgeny is recruited as a Soviet spy by KBG spymaster, Starik Zhilov.

While Yevgeny serves as an undercover K.G.B. agent in Washington D.C., Jack becomes a field agent in East Berlin and Leo works for the Agency’s counterintelligence unit in Washington. Of the three friends, two of them suffer setbacks in their love lives. During his basic training for the K.G.B., Yevgeny falls for a young woman named Azalia Ivanova. But Starik forces him to choose between the K.G.B. and Azalia; and Yevgeny leaves for his assignment in the United States. While on assignment in East Berlin, Jack falls for his source, a beautiful East German ballerina named Lili, who provides information from a figure known as The Professor, an important scientist in the East German hierarchy. Unfortunately, Lili is betrayed to the Stasi, which eventually leads her to commit suicide before she can be officially arrested. Only Leo is lucky enough to sustain a long relationship and marriage to the woman he loves – Adelle Swett, who comes from a wealthy Washington family and whose father is a personal friend of President Eisenhower.

However, the story’s main narrative centered around the efforts of the C.I.A. to find a mole who has caused a great deal of damage to its many agendas. The failure of Jack McAuliffe and his mentor, Harvey Torriti (aka “The Sorcerer) to help a defector escape from East Germany led to Torriti’s discovery of a mole with access to the Agency – namely MI-6 operative, Adrian “Kim” Philby, who happens to be a close friend of the Agency’s counterintelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton. As revealed in a scene between Philby and Yevgeny, the K.G.B. has another mole within the ranks of the C.I.A. – someone who goes by the code name, “Sascha”. It was “Sascha’ who had exposed Lili and the Professor to the East Germans. It was “Sascha” who had exposed Jack as an American agent to the Hungarian Secret Police, on the eve of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. And it was “Sascha” who had revealed the Agency’s plans for an invasion of Cuba – an act that nearly endangered Jack’s life. Between the exposure of “Kim” Philby as a Soviet mole and the series of political and intelligence disasters not only led to Angleton’s paranoid determination to find “Sascha”, but also his big mole hunt in the mid 1970s.

Actor Chris O’Donnell had stated in a featurette that “THE COMPANY” could be divided into three genres. Episode One could be described as an espionage thriller, Episode Two as an big-scare adventure story (in which two of them are featured – the Hungarian Revolution and the Bay of Pigs), and Episode Three as a psychological thriller that involved a mole hunt. This is probably why I found “THE COMPANY” so thrilling to watch. It was able to explore the many sub-genres of the spy story and stick to the one main narrative, at the same time. All the facets of the miniseries – spy thriller, adventure story and psychological thriller – centered around the impact of “Sascha’s” betrayals and the lives of the three protagonists.

The ironic thing is that one of the characters – Yevgeny Tsipin – is obviously a K.G.B. agent that served as a deep undercover agent in Washington D.C. for three decades. Yet, his character is portrayed as a protagonist, instead of a supporting or major villain. Although the Agency is portrayed as the good guy out to destroy the “evil” K.G.B., “THE COMPANY” did not hesitate to portray some of its darker aspects – whether it was Angleton and other officials’ cool betrayal of the anti-Communist Hungarians, during their revolution against the Soviets; or their misguided determination to continue with their plans for a Cuban invasion. One of the series’ more darker segments appeared in Angleton’s mole hunt in Episode Three. The Agency official began to suspect Leo Krinsky of being “Sascha”, the Soviet mole. What Krinsky endured during his interrogation had me squirming in my seat with sheer discomfort. Ken Nolan did an excellent job, as far as I am concerned, with adapting Litell’s novel.

Ridley Scott became one of the miniseries’ producers (along with John Calley) and had planned to direct. But he realized that he may not have been up to directing a production that was over four hours long. So, he and Calley hired Danish filmmaker Mikael Salomon to direct at least one episode. Salomon, who had directed two episodes of 2001’s “BAND OF BROTHERS”, directed all of the episodes of this miniseries. And he did an exceptional job. I was especially impressed by his direction of segments that included Jack McAuliffe’s adventures in East Berlin, the Hungarian Revolution, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the travails that Leo endured, while being suspected for being a mole. He also did exceptional work with the large cast that proved to be very talented.

I noticed that many critics seemed to be very impressed by the older cast members – especially Alfred Molina’s splashy portrayal of Jack’s mentor, the gregarious Harvey Torriti; and Michael Keaton’s mannered performance as the paranoid James Jesus Angleton. And both actors were great. I also have to commend Ulrich Thomsen’s subtle portrayal of the secretive and manipulative spymaster Starik Zhilov, and Tom Hollander for giving a charming performance as MI-6 operative-turned-K.G.B. mole, Adrian Philby. And there were other performances that impressed me. Both Ted Atherton as C.I.A. official Frank Wisner and Natascha McElhone as a British woman caught up in the Hungarian uprising gave passionate performances. And I was also impressed by Alexandra Maria Lara and Erika Marozsán as the women in Jack and Yevgeny’s lives. But for me, the actors portraying the three Yale buddies, whose lives were swept into the world of espionage, seemed to be the emotional center of this tale.

Alessandro Nivola’ portrayal of Leo Kritsky barely seemed to catch my interest – at least in the first two episodes. He seemed to be around, mainly as support for the emotionally besieged Jack. But the actor really came into his own in Episode Three, as the miniseries focused on the trauma Leo suffered as a victim of Angleton’s mole hunt. Rory Cochrane gave one of his most subtle and complex performances as K.G.B. operative, Yevgeny Tsipin. He really made the audience care for his well being, despite his activities against the U.S. government, during his years in Washington D.C. But it was Chris O’Donnell who really carried the miniseries in his portrayal of Cold War true believer, Jack McCauliffe. Thanks to his superb performance, he did an excellent job of developing Jack’s character from a naive, yet patriotic C.I.A. recruit and newbie, to the middle-aged man, whose experiences had not only worn him out, but led him to finally question the necessity of the Cold War.

All I can say is that “THE COMPANY” was a well-made adaptation of Robert Littell’s novel about the C.I.A.’s history during the Cold War. And it was all due to Mikael Salomon’s excellent and well-paced direction, Ken Nolan’s script and a superb cast led by Chris O’Donnell.

Advertisements

“THE OTHER GUYS” (2010) Review

“THE OTHER GUYS” (2010) Review

One could not imagine two such diverse Hollywood talents such as Will Farrell and Mark Wahlberg co-starring together in a summer action comedy. I certainly could not imagine such a scenario. And after watching the trailer for the new comedy, ”THE OTHER GUYS”, I had approached the film with a little bit of trepidation. 

Directed by Adam McKay, ”THE OTHER GUYS” told the story of two mismatched New York Police detectives – Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz – who become determined to rise from the police department’s running joke in order to become the city’s top police detective, following the deaths of the city’s top cops, Highsmith and Danson. Standing in their way are a few impediments – namely their previous inability to form a solid detective team, Hoitz’s bad temper, Gamble’s inexperience in the field and previous position as a forensic accountant, another pair of detectives named Martin and Fosse, and a massive lottery scam operated by a multi-billionaire named David Ershon, who owns money to an investor.

In the end, ”THE OTHER GUYS” proved to be a solid comedy written by Chris Henchy and Adam McKay, and directed by McKay. Narrated by Ice-T, the movie provided plenty of comedic moments that actually made me laugh and some surprisingly impressive action sequences. One of the best scenes featured a bombing of an accountant’s office that left both Gamble and Hoitz slightly wounded. It gave Farrell the opportunity to make sarcastic remarks about similar scenes in other Hollywood action films. Another funny scene featured the over-the-top action sequence featuring Highsmith and Danson, which opened the movie. However, my favorite scene featured Hoitz meeting Gamble’s beautiful wife, Dr. Sheila Ramos Gamble for the first time. Mark Wahlberg proved he could be extremely funny, while conveying Hoitz’s barely controlled infatuation with Sheila and disbelief that she would find someone like Gamble desirable. The movie also explored the personalities and background of both Gamble and Hoitz, allowing the audience to understand their personal demons and the situations that led to their partnership and inability to get along. During college, Gamble became a pimp for a group of female college students-turned-prostitutes. Which in turn allowed his personality to become increasingly aggressive, until he found himself arrested for violent behavior. And Hoitz found himself partnered with Gamble after he accidently shot New York Yankee Derek Jeter during the 2003 World Series. An incident that Hoitz has been trying to live down ever since.

Not everything about ”THE OTHER GUYS” ended up smelling roses. The movie was hampered by at least two sequences that threatened to stop the movie’s pacing in its tracks. One sequence featured multi-billionaire Ershon’s attempts to bribe Gamble and Hoitz with expensive tickets to shows and sporting events in order to stop them from investigating his lottery ticket scam. At first, I found the sequence rather funny. But it threatened to stretch for a longer period than necessary and I found myself longing for it to end. Another such sequence featured Gamble’s attempts to send slightly pornographic messages to his wife, Sheila, using her mother as a carrier. Both he and Hoitz found themselves hiding from their fellow cops and a group of mercenaries, while keeping Ershon in their custody in order to use him to prevent the scam from affecting the police retirement fund. At first I found the scene rather funny, with most of the comedy provided by Mama Ramos’ growing discomfort at the pornographic nature of Gamble and Sheila’s messages. But like the bribery sequence, it threatened to go a bridge too far and I found myself inwardly screaming for it to end. One last problem I had with the movie dealt with its last half hour. Quite frankly, I thought ”THE OTHER GUYS” dragged a bit during that half hour. McKay and Henchy could have wrapped up the story a little sooner. And I found the resolution to the case to be rather vague. Almost confusing.

Both Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg proved to be a first-rate comedy team, much to my surprise. I had feared that Wahlberg would find himself overwhelmed by the comedic aggressions of Ferrell, but the actor proved that he could more than hold his own and be just as funny. And Ferrell proved that he did not always have to resort to his usual manic comedy style in order to be funny. Michael Keaton’s talent for comedy seemed to have resurface this year in both the Disney animation movie, “TOY STORY 3” and in his role as Gamble and Hoitz’s crusty supervisor, Captain Gene Mauch. In fact, I thought he was so funny that I found myself wondering where he had been for so long. Eva Mendes proved to be just as funny as Gamble’s beautiful, yet off-the-wall wife, Sheila. Steve Coogan, along with Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr. provided comedic support in their roles as billionaire David Ershon and the two leads’ rivals, Martin and Fosse. And both Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson gave deliciously over-the-top performances as the city’s two original and not-so-bright top cops, Highsmith and Danson.

I had a few problems with Adam McKay and Chris Henchy’s script for ”THE OTHER GUYS” and all of them featured the pacing. Two of the comedy sequences stretched longer than necessary. And if I must be honest, I have to say the same about the movie’s last half hour. But the movie also featured some top-notch performances by a cast led by Will Farrell and Mark Wahlberg. It also had a solid script ably directed by McKay. Overall, ”THE OTHER GUYS” proved to be a pretty damn good movie.