Monday, August 15, 2011


Christian Carion, France, 2009 (8.5*)

This intriguing spy film is more like a John le Carre novel (Smiley's People; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Spy Who Came in From the Cold), meaning realistic (and relatively slow moving), than a modern action-packed pseudo spy story (a la James Bond). The film actually recounts the true story of a Russian agent in the waning days of the Soviet Union who was dubbed Farewell in the west, a man inside Soviet intelligence who smuggled out important information. This is the thinly disguised fictional filming of the story of the Russian KGB colonel Vladimir Vetrov, who apparently was a lot stranger and impulsive than this film portrays.

His contact was a minor diplomatic liaison at the French embassy, Pierre Froment (Guillame Canet), involuntarily swept into the espionage game without any training, and who also lacked the common sense that most in that profession need to survive. Willem Dafoe has a minor role as a U.S. intelligence officer who fills in Froment on all the info the former is missing due to his low rank. (..and just see if you can spot David Soul in this film!)

In order to prove his veracity, the Russian, Gregoriev, played by Serbian director Emir Kusturica, leaks information to the west that proves that Soviet agents have penetrated the U.S. defense system – they know the locations of major radar installations, the nuclear codes, and even the delivery times of vendors to the White House. His intelligence treasure is the identities of these agents within the U.S., which the Russians call the X Line.

This is an intriguing and riveting story, in spite of some caricatures within the players, such as Fred Ward’s portrayal of Ronald Reagan, who has a few intelligence meetings in this story. Some who know the real story of Vetrov say it’s truly stranger than this fiction – perhaps the filmmakers toned it down to make it more realistic. At any rate, it belongs on the short list of realistic espionage films worth recommending.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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