Blu-ray Review: The Russia House - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Boutique reissue label Twilight Time adds the 1990 spy drama The Russia House to its Limited Edition Series. The quiet, deliberately-paced adaptation of John le Carré's novel of the same name stars Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer. In retrospect, it's easy to see why this densely-layered thriller was met with a rather cool reaction at the box office (about $22 million domestic gross—not quite enough to make the top 50 of the year). Director Fred Schepisi's film is mature and contemplative, entirely lacking the type of chases and shootouts that typify many entries in the genre.

The Russia House is shot through with understated intelligence, benefiting greatly from expert screenwriting by Academy Award-winner Tom Stoppard (who grabbed Oscar gold in 1998 for Shakespeare In Love). Much like any le Carré story, this one demands viewers' close scrutiny from start to finish. Connery is astounding as British publisher Barley Scott-Blair, a composed gentleman who winds up embroiled in a joint operation between MI6 and the CIA.

Barley is tasked with identifying the mysterious Dante (Klaus Maria Brandauer), who has delivered a manuscript to publisher Nicky Landau (Nicholas Woodeson) via Katya (Pfeiffer). The contents of the manuscript suggests the USSR's nuclear program doesn't measure up to the fearsome hype. It's up to Barley, working undercover, to extract information about Dante's true identity and to authenticate the information contained in the manuscript. Barley's source is Katya, with whom he falls in love. It's not a conventionally "exciting" film, but for those with the requisite patience and taste for mature storytelling, it pays off. 

Russia House BD cover (301x380).jpg Twilight Time's Blu-ray offers an acceptable 1080p presentation of longtime Schepisi collaborator Ian Baker's cinematography. The shot-on-location Russian scenery and landmarks are the main attraction (The Russian House was only the second U.S. production shot in the then-Soviet Union). Some wide shots are a bit wanting in terms of sharpness and fine detail. For the most part, this looks good without ever being dazzling.

The lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack is consistently efficient. This is a talky film and this mix allows every word to be clearly heard. One of the best aspects of Russia is the atmospheric Jerry Goldsmith score, which showcases jazz sax great Branford Marsalis. The score is also available as an isolated track (a feature standard to nearly all Twilight Time Blu-ray releases).

The other feature is "Building the Russia House," an eight-minute vintage 'making of' piece that, while basically a promo piece, offers some interview footage from director Schepisi and the film's two above-the-title stars. For ordering information, visit Screen Archives or the official Twilight Time website. Supplies are limited to whatever is left of the initial 3,000 unit release, so if you're a fan of John le Carré adaptations (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, A Most Wanted Man, and more) you'll want to act now.

Russia House Booklet (299x380).jpg

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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