Traitor (dir. Jeffrey Nachmanoff) 2008

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This is a gripping spy thriller about recruiting and dispatching suicide bombers and about the enforcement agencies attempting to prevent this.

Don Cheadle is excellent as a devout Muslim, bomb expert, training suicide bombers. His internal strife keeps you guessing which side he identifies with, right through the film. Guy Pearce turns in another very nuanced performance as an American agent trying to catch him. The script is well written in that none of the major characters see the conflict in purely black and white terms even though their individual part in it is uncompromising.

The story was written by Steve Martin, better known for his comedy. It is clever and has enough twists to hold your interest until close to the end. The direction is dark and gritty, which suits the subject matter.

The ending is at odds with the rest of the film in that it ties up all the loose ends a little too nicely but, I guess, with a more realistic ending, it probably would not have been made at all.

The Russia House (dir. Fred Schepisi) 1990

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This is a John Le Carre novel given the Hollywood treatment. The story is as complex as you would expect from a Le Carre story, you will need your full faculties about you to decipher who is lying to whom, and the twists will keep you interested right until the end. Even the ending was unexpected given the author’s earlier stories but it is often nice to be surprised.

It was released in 1990 and is packed with big names of the time. It has Sean Connery, Michelle Pfeiffer, Roy Scheider, James Fox – it even has Ken Russell, as eccentric an actor as he was a director. Sean Connery plays a jazz loving, book publisher and is as good as I have ever seen him. Michelle Pfeiffer and Roy Scheider are excellent too, in quite complex roles.  I really enjoyed the soundtrack too, an interesting mixture of jazz and Russian influenced themes.

For me though, the real star of the movie was Russia. It was one of the earliest movies to be allowed to shoot on location in the Soviet Union. Moscow and Leningrad (St Petersburg now) look austere, monumental and beautiful.

The settings here capture a time and place perfectly; adding an extra dimension to an already vey good film.