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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Russia House (Limited Edition Series) (Blu-ray)
The Russia House (Limited Edition Series) (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // R // July 12, 2016 // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted August 15, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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A U D I O
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THE FILM:

Fred Schepisi's (It Runs in the Family) The Russia House is based on espionage expert John le Carre's novel of the same name, and is only the second (and last) American film shot on location in the Soviet Union before it dissolved. Sean Connery stars alongside Michelle Pfeiffer in this complicated, occasionally confusing adaptation. This largely action-free thriller is more interested in the long game, teasing viewers' understanding of the on-screen events. The acting is strong across the board, but The Russia House runs long at 122 minutes. Twilight Time's new Blu-ray edition offers decent picture and sound, and fans will be pleased to have this film in high definition.

British author le Carre ("The Spy Who Came in from the Cold," "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," and "The Tailor of Panama," among many others) certainly understands complex, twisty stories, during which he drops subtle clues instead of feeding readers obvious revelations. His stories do not always translate well to the screen, as is often the case for densely plotted novels. The Russia House is certainly accomplished, but is far from the best film pulled from a le Carre novel. Here, Connery plays Bartholomew "Barley" Scott Blair, a British publisher who becomes entangled in international espionage when a Russian woman, Katya Orlova (Pfeiffer), attempts to pass him a manuscript from a mysterious "Dante" that contains intimate information about the Soviet's military and nuclear capabilities. Barley realizes he has met Dante in the past, but is puzzled by Katya, whom he has never seen. British intelligence recruits Barley to confirm the validity of the information contained in the manuscript. This requires him to cozy up to Katya, and Barley quickly falls in love with the woman.

The twists and turns of The Russia House are not paved with gun battles and car chases. Most revelations are made during deep conversations, and many details are only revealed far after an event occurs. Connery is quite excellent here as the somewhat surly, heavy drinking publisher. He is not bound to the British government, and recognizes that he is doing them a great favor. Pfeiffer is also good, and offers a mostly convincing Russian accent. The film offers glimpses inside the Soviet Union, and its cracks are revealed in Katya's personal hardships and fears. Should Soviet leaders discover the damning information has been leaked, Katya would likely be imprisoned or killed.

Thanks to charismatic Connery, The Russia House is often quite funny. Few actors can pull of drama with such ease, and Connery proves charming and engrossing in the role. Viewers may find themselves moving past the plot of Schepisi's film, but the screenplay, from Tom Stoppard, seems to eschew traditional "gotcha" twists and turns for more realistic, grounded secrets. A few trims may have improved the pacing, as The Russia House feels long at just over two hours. The ending feels like it was tacked on by the studio, but this does not deflate the project. The Russia House is a minor work on Connery's resume, but earns a recommendation for fans of le Carre's adaptations.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

The 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is OK, but certainly not as pleasing as other Twilight Time presentations of late. The film has an overall flat, slightly soft appearance, and no one will mistake this for a sparkling restoration. There is a good amount of dirt and scratches on the image, and I noticed telecine wobble during the opening credits and during early scenes. Fine-object detail is decent, and wide shots offer relatively crisp depth. I did not see any glaring edge halos or smearing, though minor aliasing pops up. Black levels are decent, with only minor crush, and colors are muted but appropriately saturated.

SOUND:

The English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix replicates the theatrical experience with clear, unhindered dialogue that is free from distortion or hiss. The score is nicely presented, too, and is layered appropriately amid the dialogue and occasional ambient effects. English SDH subtitles are included.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

Twilight Time releases The Russia House on Blu-ray as part of its "Limited Edition Series," and only 3,000 units were produced. The single-disc release is packed in a clear Blu-ray case with dual-side artwork. Inside the case is a multi-page booklet with an essay and pictures. Extras include Twilight Time's standard Isolated Score Track, in 3.0 DTS-HD Master Audio; Building The Russia House, a short, vintage making-of; and the film's Theatrical Trailer.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer star in this adaptation of John le Carre's novel. The Russia House is dense and intricately plotted, and benefits from strong performances, particularly from Connery. The film is occasionally sluggish, but the acting and intrigue make up for the narrative imperfections. Recommended.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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