John le Carre’s glasnost-era espionage novel has been turned into intelligent adult entertainment, but somber tone, utter lack of action and sex, and complexity of plot tilts this mainly to upscale audience.
The film is the first US non-coproduction to be shot substantially in the USSR.
Sean Connery plays Barley Blair, a boozy, inconoclastic London publisher to whom a highly sensitive manuscript is sent via a Moscow book editor named Katya (Michelle Pfeiffer). Intercepted by British authorities, the text, authored by a leading physicist, purports to lay out the facts about Soviet nuclear capabilities in devastating detail.
Over his protestations, Blair is sent to Moscow in his role as prospective publisher to meet the writer, the mysterious Dante (Klaus Maria Brandauer), determine his reliability and put more questions to him. His intermediary is the beautiful Katya with whom he falls in love.
As the flawed, unreliable publisher, Connery is in top form. Pfeiffer’s Katya is a much more guarded figure. Her Russian accent proves very believable but she has limited notes to play.
Most of the supporting roles are one-dimensional British or US intelligence types, but James Fox, Roy Scheider, John Mahoney and Michael Kitchen embody them solidly and with wit when possible. Director Ken Russell amusingly hams it up as an impishly aggressive spy master. Brandauer is strong as always in his brief appearance as the charismatic Dante.