Film: Ghostbusters

ghostbusters_ver6The Ghostbusters (2016) reboot has stirred plenty of controversy, but ultimately for me it raised one question: is it possible to make a movie starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones that isn’t funny? The answer, amazingly, is yes, you can…but also, it totally isn’t their fault.

Chock full of nods and winks to its 1984 source material, Ghostbusters introduces us to its world via Erin Gilbert (Wiig), a tenure-pursuing scientist whose past as a believer in the supernatural is revealed when her former partner Abby Yates (McCarthy) puts their co-authored book on Amazon. It costs Erin her job and reintroduces her to Abby, who is still pursuing ghost science with peculiar engineer Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon). Soon Erin finds herself in business with them, and one of their first clients, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), leads them to evidence that spectral phenomena are real — and that someone is working to bring ghosts back to the material world, overrunning the city. In the face of an incompetent government cover-up, it’s up to the Ghostbusters to save the day.

While I have fond memories of the original Ghostbusters as a formative blockbuster moviegoing experience, I’m not particularly invested in the franchise, and frankly the misogynistic internet hate against it is deeply, deeply stupid. Indeed, I was enthusiastic about giving these female stars, Wiig and McCarthy in particular, a turn in the action-comedy spotlight. They’ve earned it, and it’s long past time. The stars make the most of it, or at least, the most of what they’re given. McKinnon and Jones, meanwhile, deliver breakout comedic performances that should put them on the Hollywood map.

But oh dear. This is not a very good movie. The primary reason, I think, is simple: the script. It fails to fully exploit the premise, and it fails to deliver funny dialogue consistently. When it does manage a good line, it steps on it, or mishandles it, or buries it in the action. More problematic for me is the annoying, elbow-in-the-ribs way it constantly reminds the viewer of the source material. It artlessly cribs catch-phrases and buzzwords and logos from the original, and clutters the plot with needless cameos; the overall effect is to remind the viewer that they’re watching a movie, instead of actually just being a movie. It’s all very calculated, but poorly so, trying so hard to be something else that it doesn’t end up being itself, whatever that might have been. (And indeed, it increased my appreciation for J.J. Abrams’ abilities to work in other universes — with him, those winking callbacks are still annoying, but at least they’re clever.)

I could go on, about the overuse of Chris Hemsworth in a one-note joke, or the miserable, disbelief-shattering special effects, or the way the film fails to leverage its editing to comedic effect. Its problems are legion. But mostly I’m just disappointed that so much talent produced something so mediocre. I really wanted to like this.

Related Posts:

Film: Our Kind of Traitor

our-kind-of-traitor-poster1John le Carré’s Our Kind of Traitor is one of his later, perhaps lesser books, but it’s one that really spoke to me, so I was eager to see it adapted to the screen. The result is certainly compelling and attractive, but somehow off; it makes an odd decision here, takes an unfortunate liberty there, and never quite captures the novel’s heart, ultimately doing it partial justice.

Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor) is an English professor, on vacation in Marrakech with his lawyer girlfriend Gail (Naomie Harris), attempting to save their troubled relationship. The holiday takes an unexpected turn when Perry’s path crosses with Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), a boisterous Russian who cheerfully maneuvers himself into Perry and Gail’s holiday plans. In fact, it’s a recruitment: Dima is a money man for the Russian mafia, and he knows his superiors are getting ready to kill him off for knowing too much. In desperation, Dima asks Perry to take a message back to MI-6, hoping the British will help him and his family defect. Perry agrees to deliver the message, but this simple involvement evolves into something far more entangling, as both he and Gail become emotionally invested in the plight of their Russian acquaintance and his family.

Our Kind of Traitor, the novel, boasts all the furious political anger of le Carré’s later work, but mitigates the inherent darkness of its worldview by presenting an unlikely created family, which comes together in inspiring defiance of it. It’s perhaps the film’s biggest failure, to me, that director Susanna White and screenwriter Hossein Amini downplay this most winning aspect of the book, in favor of more a streamlined Hollywood structure and symbology. Our Kind of Traitor, the film, is very much Perry’s story, making this a Ewan MacGregor vehicle rather than the ensemble piece I was craving. Skarsgård’s turn as the blustering, profane Dima is award-worthy stuff, and Damian Lewis is entertainingly venomous as espiocrat Hector Meredith, but the supporting cast, many of them important viewpoint characters in the novel, is largely relegated to the sidelines. Most egregious is the wasting of Naomie Harris; I recall, in the source material, Gail being every bit an equally invested partner in the adventure, but her character is retooled to generate marital strife and her heroism is incidental to Perry’s manly coming-of-age journey. What makes this all the more disappointing is that le  Carré is an author not known for particularly well done female characters. He actually does better than usual  in Our Kind of Traitor, only to see the adaptation render the women nominal to the action, if not downright mute. Not exactly a feather in Hollywood’s cap.

Granted, much of my dissatisfaction is borne of my enthusiasm for the source material, so it likely won’t bother the casual viewer with a fondness for slick, spy fare. There’s plenty to enjoy in the film’s gripping plot and gorgeous international scenery. Skarsgård alone is worth the price of admission, and the Dima-Perry friendship is charming and exceptionally realized. I found some screenwriting choices problematic, but the structural bones are sound, and the changes to the ending introduce some hope to an otherwise bleak scenario. But ultimately I can’t help but feel a little bit let down: Our Kind of Traitor looks very much like the film I wanted it to be, but shaped by creatives with a much different take on the story and what makes it worth telling. In the end, for me, this make it diverting but inessential.

Related Posts:

Novel: Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Madeline Ashby’s Machine Dynasty novels are inventive and colorful, but Company Town (2016) steps up her storytelling chops another notch, without sacrifice to the creativity, edginess, and idea-dense nature of her earlier work. The future city of New Arcadia is composed of five, connected oil-rig towers in the Canadian North Atlantic, where Hwa serves as a bodyguard for the city’s escort service. Her circumstances change, however, when New Arcadia is bought by Lynch, Ltd., a powerful corporation that promptly hires Hwa — a rare, unaugmented human — to protect their heir apparent, Joel, from death threats. With little more than her combat skills and local street smarts to go by, Hwa soon finds that protecting Joel from unseen evils will be extremely difficult — and that she herself may be a more crucial focus of New Arcadia’s intrigues than she ever would have imagined.

Company Town is a quick, slick future noir, anchored by the vivid, futuristic world-building of New Arcadia, an unforgettable setting. As usual, Ashby’s writing is full of eye-popping visionary detail, depicting a gritty near-future that also points toward grander, deeper sense of wonder. It’s a rich world, ripe for further exploration should Ashby desire to do so. But where Company Town steps up its game is character. Hwa, in particular, is convincing and complex — disfigured, disabled, and a long-suffering victim of circumstance, she’s also tough, stubborn and likeable, an accessible window onto both this strange future and the underlying sociopolitical themes of the book, where the tilted playing boards of gender and class and power unfold. More evidence that Ashby just keeps getting better and better, Company Town is bracing, thought-provoking, and memorable.

Related Posts:

TV: Show Me a Hero

Show Me a HeroNobody does television like David Simon, and there’s no bettter, more appropriate time to screen his 2015 miniseries Show Me a Hero than now. This first-rate HBO production chronicles a contentious political fight to desegregate neighborhoods and build public housing in Yonkers, New York in the late 1980s, and it’s another gripping, insightful mosaic about racism, political gridlock, and systemic injustice. It slots into Simon’s oeuvre perfectly alongside previous accomplishments Homicide: Life in the Street, The Wire, and Treme.

In 1987, the city council of Yonkers loses a contentious court battle and is ordered to comply with a government order. The city must build new low-income housing, and not in the projects, but spread out in traditional middle-class neighborhoods. This creates a public outcry amongst the city’s white reactionaries, whose “concern for property values” fails to conceal obvious racism. Nonetheless, their angry protests motivate the council, including young first-term councilman Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac), to resist the order. Long-time Mayor Angelo Martinelli (Jim Belushi) sees the fight as lost and plans to submit to the court order, but Wasicsko sees an opportunity to parlay his anti-public housing stance into a mayoral election strategy. What he doesn’t foresee is that by winning, he’ll be saddled with the political headaches of actually executing the order once resistance inevitably fails — which makes him a target of both vicious political opposition, and the ugly, racist backlash of the constituents who put him into office.

Based on a book by Lisa Belkin, Show Me a Hero follows in the footsteps of Homicide by dramatizing the real-life people and events of a nonfiction book, and it does so with aplomb. Although, as in most of Simon’s shows, the diverse viewpoint is spread across several characters, there’s an unusual dominance to one person’s story this time: that of Nick Wasicsko. It’s another feather in Oscar Isaac’s career cap, to say the least; he plays Wasicsko as a charming opportunist, whose moral grasp of the issues is often clouded by personal ambition. Wasicsko’s journey from rising star to embattled political veteran, from fervent anti-public housing candidate to reluctant advocate, provides plenty of meaty dramatic material. Isaac pulls it off brilliantly, with just the right mix of likeable accessibility and cringeworthy selfishness. Is he truly a hero? Simon and co-writer William Zorzi don’t make a case one way or the other, shining light on qualities and flaws both.

Nor are they focused entirely on the city hall politics and the people in power. They spread their storytelling, and plenty of day-to-day heroism, amongst the many disadvantaged people for whom the new houses become a source of hope and change. From troubled single mother Doreen Henderson (Natalie Paul), to legally blind home health aide Norma O’Neill (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), to Dominican Republic immigrant Carmen Febles (Ilfenesh Hadera), and more, we’re shown the perspectives of those for whom the housing is such an important and necessary development — and how it’s far from enough of an initiative to solve the systemic problems that make them necessary. And then there’s Mary Dorman (the great Catherine Keener), an anti-housing activist whose civic involvement eventually, gradually shifts her opinions. Her journey is less central, but far more transformative, than the protagonist’s.

Show Me a Hero is, like most Simon TV, dark stuff — necessarily so. But it’s encoded, perhaps, with a little more hope than usual, even as it exposes systemic rot — and critically reflects the American race turmoil that stubbornly persists to this day. (It’s telling that one of Wasicsko’s major political foes, Hank Spallone, is played by Alfred Molina as if channeling Donald Trump in all his bullying, single-minded glory.) The supporting cast is rounded out expertly by Jon Bernthal, Clarke Peters, Carla Quevedo, Peter Riegert, Winona Ryder, and more, and the film is gorgeously shot by Paul Haggis. In other words, it’s the complete package, full of heart, intelligence, and important, careful messaging — yet another moving and immersive story from one of TV’s greatest auteur voices.

Related Posts:

TV: Quantico (Season 1)

quanticoMy immediate impression of the pilot of Quantico: not bad, but is it sustainable? Short answer: nope. Indeed, while I considered it my duty as a spy fan to watch and report, this post is the Goodreads equivalent of a DNF review. I bailed several episodes before the end, and indeed my emotional investment flagged far before I stopped watching.

Quantico revolves around a class of FBI recruits, bouncing back and forth through time to follow their exploits. In the past track, their formative training and early relationships are on display, while in the future, their skills and connections are put the test in a frantic terrorism crisis. Headlining the class is top student Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra), who’s following in the footsteps of her father — and has a hidden agenda to uncover the secrets of his service career. But she’s not the only recruit with concealed motives or dubious histories. The class is full of mysterious characters, and when Alex later finds herself the pivotal figure in a terrorist conspiracy, she’s suddenly facing them down as suspects.

Even in the early stages, Quantico is an odd, stylistic mutant, mixing 24-style action twists, Lost-like flashbacks, Shondaland tone and diversity, and a deeply weird reality-showesque approach to the training montages. It shouldn’t all work together, but at first, it kind of does, thanks largely to Chopra’s charismatic presence and key support from her suspect list of classmates, specifically Jake McLaughlin, Johanna Braddy, Tate Ellington, Yasmine Al Massri, Graham Rogers, and Annabelle Acosta. The pilot, anyway, manages this large cast adroitly and keeps the back-and-forth mystery coherent and engaging.

As the story advances, however, it all falls apart. At first the characters and scenario fueled the intrigue, but later, as suspension of disbelief erodes, a more meta intrigue develops: what the hell are the writers doing? Quantico’s early confidence lapses into random reaching, plotlines contorting desperately to draw the season out. Meanwhile the tone skews all over the place, from spy thriller melodrama one moment to upbeat teen soap opera the next. The training sessions, tailored to inform events in the future track, devolve into ludicrous game show exercises. By midseason the cast is so fractured by pantsed plotting that a next generation of students is integrated into the class to generate silly, new conflicts. Then along comes Hannah Wyland (Eliza Coupe), perhaps the show’s most convincing character, who blows massive holes in the logic of the heroes’ behavior, and then randomly throws in with them to destroy her own career. Any credibiity the show had left at this point goes right out the window.

I wanted to like Quantico. Chopra is a legitimate star, or at least she could be in a better vehicle. The cast is promising and diverse, and there’s something to be said for its audacious structural ambition. But it starts at a very difficult place and goes straight downhill from there, uncertain what kind of show it is, or even wants to be.  An unfortunate mess.

Related Posts:

TV: Orange is the New Black (Season 4)

season 4 2Netflix’s unique prison dramedy Orange is the New Black surges into its fourth season with energy and confidence, looking for all the world like another solid season of television. In many respects it’s just that: well paced, rich with diverse, memorable characters, and performed and produced with its customary, distinctive flair. But this is the year Orange is the New Black, a show that has always tip-toed along the edge of transgression, finally crosses the line. My post-viewing impression is a peculiar mix of respect for its usual, effective execution, and disgust for its out-of-control messaging.

It is still a show that hasn’t run out of stories to tell, at least. The new chapter begins with a ramping up of the chaos caused by Litchfield’s acquisition by a for-profit megacorporation. To maximize revenues, the prison population is doubled, overcrowding the bunks and drastically shifting Litchfield’s racial demographics. Maria Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel) sees in this an opportunity to change the power dynamics; to protect her business, Piper (Taylor Schilling) semi-accidentally rallies a “White Lives Matter” movement in response. Even as these tensions escalate amongst the inmates, they have new enemies to contend with: a ruthless new wave of guards, led by hard-nosed disciplinarian Piscatella (Brad William Henke). All these new bodies in the prison cause living conditions to deteriorate, ultimately leading to explosive conflict.

I’ve long been wary of Jenji Kohan’s edgy sensibility, in which provocative shock tactics are used to blend scathing comedy with serious themes — and looking back, Orange is the New Black has never been entirely uncontroversial. The risk-taking nature of the series is surely a huge part of its mission statement. But when you’re in the business of regularly almost Going There, it’s possible you may actually Go There. Emboldened by its success, OITNB takes its frank, in-your-face approach to race to new extremes, confusing fearlessness to confront the issue with an inherent sensitivity about it. Alas, the headline-ripping traumas incorporated into season four’s greater story arc truly realize one of the show’s earliest criticisms: that it’s prison tourism, serving up very real suffering as voyeuristic entertainment for the more fortunate.

While I’m not convinced the writers have malicious intent, I do think they stumble clumsily across the line from critique into exploitation far too often this season. It’s possible to witness and still see it as a well intentioned examination of systemic injustice, but the messaging is open to deeper, squickier interpretation. Even as I watched in sympathy with the inmates’ plight, and with the show’s brutal commentary, I also felt dirty for ingesting it as entertainment. Part of me wonders if this was an intentional effect: perhaps I’m supposed to uncomfortably relate to characters like Judy King (Blair Brown), the Martha Stewart-like celebrity whose privilege follows her into the prison. The show does seem to be trying to paint a picture of racial double standards, particularly when the backstory of white male prison guard Bayley (Alan Aisenberg) shows him getting slapped on the wrist for crimes that landed black, female characters in the hell of Litchfield. Still…am I getting a message by watching this show, or perpetuating one? Suddenly I’m not sure.

My hope is that the show can course-correct in season five, and wend its way toward a planned conclusion that mitigates the Gone Too Far edginess, and more importantly, injects some hope into the lives of these characters. Because there are so many great characters on this show, so well performed, and I can’t help but maintain some loyalty to it as a groundbreaking showcase for female characters and acting talent. But like Kohan’s previous show Weeds, which one-upped itself into absurd irrelevance, season four pushes the envelope with some truly repulsive decisions. The results are certainly thought-provoking, but also extremely off-putting. Can the writers rein it in enough to turn things around? The inmates deserve better, and I hope they get it.

season4

Related Posts:

Novelette Sale to Lightspeed

Lightspeed logo

I’m happy to announce that I just sold a novelette to Lightspeed! Keep an eye out for my dystopian mystery “An Inflexible Truth” sometime in the future.

To put it lightly, I’m stoked. Earlier this year, I published my first non-fiction piece at Lightspeed, and I’m beyond pleased that I’ll be making a fiction appearance there as well.

I tend to go a long time between sales, so I’m in serious celebration mode. I’ll let you know when it’s coming out, but in the meantime, please excuse my spontaneous funk dance!

Related Posts:

Novel: The Circle by Dave Eggers

circleGiven the quirky, unsettling nature of its worldbuilding, I suppose it’s appropriate I found something off about The Circle (2013) by Dave Eggers. It chronicles the journey of a young employee, Mae Holland, as she finds her way into the unique corporate culture of The Circle. A Big Data monolith in Silicon Valley, The Circle is basically Google: The Next Generation, easily the world’s most powerful company that has transformed the internet by rendering easier and more transparent. As Mae starts her modest new career in its Customer Experience department, it feels like a vast, shimmering Shangri-La of an ideal workplace, full of brilliant young co-workers and unimaginable luxury. But as Mae’s career progresses, she finds her very worldview challenged by The Circle’s cult-like community attitude toward the pursuit of knowledge, which accelerates inexorably toward an extreme goal: the utter eradication of privacy.

The Circle is certainly an interesting read. The thematic foundation of the novel is rock solid, and Eggers takes his idea and runs with it, extrapolating the “information wants to be free” cliche to its Orwellian extremes. It’s also a compelling read, more or less: Mae makes for an amusing viewpoint character through which to get acquainted with The Circle, which is a thinly veiled microcosm for data-hungry digital utopianism. Her experiences are entertaining, full of amusing encounters and personal struggles. Meanwhile the intriguing concepts of a sideways, slightly disturbing near future ricochet past her eyeballs.

That said, something about The Circle doesn’t quite work. Perhaps it’s Mae’s personality transformation, which seems artificially extreme to ensure the author’s point is made. Perhaps it’s the culture of The Circle, which seems far too homogenous in its zealous temperament and uniform mission — again, in service to the plot and theme. Indeed, on a broader level, perhaps it’s that the seams are showing: the motives of the characters, their decisions, the nature of the world-building are all tailored toward proving a particular point. This may be appropriate for a fantastical parable, which is a feel The Circle shoots for, but because the point is hammered home with such force, it comes across like a polemic…and as such, there’s not much surprise in its unfolding. The dark turns are telegraphed.

This hardly makes it unworthwhile, however. Eggers makes his point by getting deeply into the heads of its opponents — particularly through one of The Circle’s executives, Eamon Bailey, whose eloquent conversations with Mae about transparency are almost convincing enough to make the Kool-Aid she’s drinking go down smoothly. A gamified, quantified surveillance society almost sounds appealing, when it isn’t terrifying — and Eggers is determined to call our attention to how close we are to that already. It’s a terrific subject for a book, and Eggers certainly commits to it, executing with enthusiasm. But for me, anyway, The Circle treads awkwardly along the line between realistic extrapolation and comic exaggeration, lurching back and forth just enough to make me question the overall worldbuilding. Ultimately, somewhat questionable tactics undermine the important message.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

TV: Colony (Season 1)

colony-banner
Not long ago I reviewed The Man in the High Castle and Occupied, two science fiction series that involve countries being taken over by occupying forces, for Lightspeed. In retrospect it’s a shame I wasn’t able to fold USA’s Colony into that review, because not only is it a perfect thematic fit, it does everything those two shows do, but better.

Taking place in a chilling near future, Colony depicts an Earth that’s been conquered and subjugated by a mysterious alien race. Few have seen the aliens, but their advanced technology is ubiquitous. Now, in the wake of a devastating invasion, they rule humanity with an iron fist, primarily through a hierarchy of human collaborators, who do their bidding in exchange for increased access to scarce goods and luxuries. The aliens, known as the “Raps,” have organized the surviving humans into strictly policed blocs, marking borders with enormous walls of weird alien tech. The collaborating Authority in each bloc is tasked with keeping law and order — and keeping the rabble in their place.

The show follows a married couple in the Los Angeles bloc, the Bowmans. Will (Josh Holloway) is a run-of-the-mill mechanic, and his wife Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies) is a former pub owner. Both are opposed to the new alien regime, which separated them from one of their three children, who is thought to be in the neighboring Santa Monica bloc. While they resent the human collaborators, they’re putting their family first and staying above the fray. But their neutrality is challenged when Will’s secret — that he used to be an FBI agent who specialized in tracking down fugitives — reaches the ears of the scheming proxy who runs the bloc, Alan Snyder (Peter Jacobson). Snyder pressures Will into working for him, promising a deal: if Will helps shut down the troublesome resistance cells within his bloc, Snyder will work to reunite him with his missing son. Reluctantly Will takes the deal, not realizing that Katie is a full-fledged member of the very resistance cell he’s targeting…and that his access to privileged information has made her an important resource to her fellow rebels.

Like The Man in the High Castle and Occupied, Colony is science fiction as political metaphor, exploring what seems to be a mounting fear in modern western society: the fear of occupation and subjugation by a foreign power. But Colony is far more interesting than High Castle, and its narrative is considerably more energetic and well structured than Occupied’s. Thanks to perfectly clocked writing and nuanced performances from Holloway and Callies, the show does a superb job of rendering sympathetic both sides of a thorny argument: how far is too far to go in the name of your ideals? Will’s pragmatism and compromise, as he works to limit violence within the bloc and rescue his son, is thoroughly understandable, but so is Katie’s disgust with the officious powers that be, and her drive to tear them down. Cleverly the ugly new reality the alien invasion has caused is actually a scary, exaggerated extension of the society we all live in now: one where a privileged elite live above it all (literally, here, in the “Green Zone” mountains north of LA), enjoying enormous power and wealth, while a huge, barely subsisting rabble lives under the thumb of a violent, oppressive police state. If you remove the alien element, the dark scenario is a chilling reflection of the present, commenting shrewdly on the ugly inequities of our systems. Do you throw in with the collaborators to protect your own, or roll the dice on resisting, and try to bring the oppressive system down? Those questions, to a less extreme degree, largely frame much of our present political debate; Colony takes them to the next level and explores them with intelligence argument.

In terms of production, Colony leverages a modest budget to exceptional effect, transforming its Los Angeles locations into a desolate, underpopulated war zone. Massive walls surround each bloc, shattered buildings blight the horizon, and deadly, frightening alien drones patrol the skies; great visual and sound effects go a long way to transform the footage and sell the future worldbuilding. But the true success of the show stems from strong writing and acting. Holloway continues to display his action hero chops, while Callies is exceptional as an increasingly committed, and yet conflicted, rebel. Both characters are faced with difficult decisions, tricky scenes where they’re forced to play both sides, and both actors do a terrific job enacting those internal struggles, words clashing with motives. There’s outstanding support, particularly from Jacobson, whose shifty villainy gradually reveals layers of complexity, and Carl Weathers, as Will’s lazy, likeable partner Beau.

I do have some reservations about Colony. There’s a creeping, subtle little subplot involving religion that raises red flags that a Lost– or Battlestar Galactica-style narrative implosion might be possible. (One of Colony’s creators is Lost scribe Carlton Cuse.) The show also makes some troubling decisions about which characters to kill off, when. Also, shows that rely this heavily on worldbuilding mythology can often lose their magic when more information comes to light — or lose their momentum when their stories are artificially extended. But so far, these potential pitfalls haven’t yet materialized, and this first season is a nicely clocked, gripping entertainment, successful both as thought-provoking science fiction and taut, suspenseful spy thriller.

Related Posts:

TV: The Night Manager

night-manager-key-art

Written in the wake of the Cold War’s end, at a time when the spy novel’s relevance was still in doubt, John le Carré’s 1993 novel The Night Manager takes as its subject the international arms trade. As such it proves that very relevance, spinning a timeless tale of greed and corruption that updates effortlessly to the modern era for the latest BBC adaptation of le Carré’s work.

The Night Manager follows the exploits of Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), a former British soldier who, as the story opens, serves as the night manager of a posh hotel in Cairo. Pine is drawn into international intrigue when a guest at the hotel, Sophie (Aure Atika) — who also happens to be the mistress of a ruthless local criminal — passes him incriminating documents about a major, illicit arms deal that may be targeted toward quashing the Arab Spring in Egypt. Pine’s efforts to tip off British intelligence and save Sophie meet with disaster. But years later, when working at a different hotel in Switzerland, Pine sees a way to redeem himself when the powerful, respected businessman behind the arms deal, Richard Onslow Roper (Hugh Laurie), checks into his hotel. Reaching out to the director of a minor British enforcement agency named Angela Burr (Olivia Colman), Pine embarks on an elaborate operation to take down Roper, whose ruthless, avaricious opportunism spreads misery all across the planet.

The Night Manager is a first-rate, beautifully shot production running to six episodes, and fans of the spy genre will find more than enough to relish in its stunning international scenery, taut suspense, and involved plotting. Hiddleston is quite accessible as the inscrutably charming Pine, but far more interesting is the viper’s nest of shady characters into which he inserts himself — especially, of course, Laurie, who couldn’t be more properly cast as a devious leader of industry who also happens to be something of a debonair sociopath. But there’s also Roper’s conflicted mistress Jed (Elizabeth Debicki), suspicious right-hand man Corky (Tom Hollander, in a spirited outing), and more posh villainy contributing to the intrigue. And then in Pine’s corner is Angela Burr, brought to scrappy life by Olivia Colman. Burr spearheads the intelligence world’s assault on Roper, whose secret connections in the British and American establishment turn her struggle into a David versus Goliath battle of wits.

Helmed confidently by Susanne Bier, The Night Manager is a lavish, well clocked entertainment that holds up among the best spy series of recent years, rating right alongside The Honourable Woman. Le Carré’s novels continue to translate powerfully to the screen; here’s hoping the trend continues.

Related Posts:

Writer