Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Looking Glass War (1969)

John le Carré pretty much built his career on Cold War spy novels in which the West is just as reprehensible as the Communist Bloc.  Consider for instance The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, in which British intelligence employ - and go to considerable lengths to protect - a literal Nazi because he is important to their plans.  His protagonists are often more or less the only honorable men in the narrative, and not infrequently meet sticky ends.

The Looking Glass War is one of le Carré's lesser known works, and the movie appears to make a number of changes from the original novel.  The main character becomes a much younger man, for instance, and his motivations much more self-interested.  He's frankly a deeply unlikable fellow even before he assaults his girlfriend.  This shift toward even more bleak and cynical characters seems to apply to much of the rest of the cast, as well.  Which when you consider what I said about le Carré in the first paragraph of this review might give you an idea of how miserable an outing this really is.

The premise of the film is that British intelligence believe that there might be Soviet rockets in East Germany, in contravention of treaties.  When their rather inept efforts to ascertain the truth of this end in the death of their agent, they recruit a young Polish sailor named Leiser to go in person and report to them via radio.  For the aging commanders of the department, this is a chance to relive the glory days of the war.  For Leiser, the lure is the chance to legally stay in Britain with his pregnant girlfriend.

Leiser receives a crash course in how to be a spy - which quickly reveals the many ways in which he is temperamentally ill-suited for the task - and is then dispatched on his mission, with predictably le Carré-an results.

This is an ugly movie filled with ugly characters.  I'm quite glad it is over.

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