The Russia House

The Russia House ★★★½

People used to come together to make movies like this where there were no explosions, no special effects, no labyrinthine mythology. Just a bunch of actors trying to bring life to a pensive, somewhat wistful story about what it takes to maintain your humanity amid the Cold War. It’s mostly terrific, too, with Connery giving us, finally, the inverse of his Bond persona in the form of a middle-aged Everyman who suddenly finds himself caught up in an opportunistic spy caper. I had assumed from years of seeing this poster that he was playing a Russian, but here he’s a humble, small-time, English publisher, and it’s through his eyes that we get to see the Glasnost-era Soviet Union, or at least a reasonably thorough, touristic version of it. In many ways this is a travelogue of a movie, and the late 80s cityscapes of Moscow and Leningrad are the star here, an exotic backdrop for Le Carré’s ruminative spycraft narrative. Pfeiffer isn’t bad, but her Russian accent is a handicap, for sure. Still, for fans of dour, not particularly pyrotechnic, novelistic spy capers, this is great fun.

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