Sunday, May 6, 2012

"THE COMPANY" (2007) Review




"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 Marozs├ín 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.

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