It's happened too many times to count by now, but instead of watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight, due to our busy schedule updating Fandango for the latest Comic-Con posts well into the early a.m. hours, I instead caught Farewell, a French espionage thriller, playing at L.A.'s Landmark theater on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Haven't heard of Farewell? Neither had I until I finally found something I hadn't seen playing in the area - which wasn't a bad thing at all. This throwback to Cold War spy thrillers a la The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or The Falcon and the Snowman is an intriguing, well-paced bit of filmmaking that knows the inner-workings of real espionage can be just as interesting as $10 million explosions.
There are no fistfights or car chases present here. The conflicts take place mostly in the mind, and the deceptions that these characters weave for themselves and the people around them. The plot involves a disillusioned Soviet colonel, Sergei Gregoriev (Emir Kusturica), and his attempts to pass off secrets to the west through a French engineer-turned-reluctant-spy named Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet). The movie is based loosely on the Cold War exploits of Russian spy Vladimir Vetrov, and the real events that took place in the 1980s. The film also involves key players like French President Mitterand, President Reagan (Fred Ward) and a head CIA operative (Willem Dafoe).
The focus, though, is on the Russian and French spies, and how the espionage process influences their relationship and their ties to their families. There may not be much physical action, but the tension that unfolds as the noose is tightened on these players is palpable. The film also makes good use of footage from the era (an impressive clip of rock band Queen - whom Gregoriev's son loves - to underline western freedom and decadence) and some excellent music cues (including Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell"). Mostly, what keeps this humming along as well as something more conventional like the actioner Salt are the engrossing performances of the leads - who keep the film's global implications at a personal, human level.
Have a favorite, or underappreciated, spy thriller? Let's hear your selections in the comments below!