Farewell: A Superior Spy Thriller

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Directed by Christian Carion

Christian Carion’s new film Farewell (L’affaire Farewell) is a taut and suspenseful political thriller that doubles as a haunting character study upon reflection.  It is a serious spy thriller, one that treats you with intelligence and as an adult, something that is really refreshing because that does not happen that often.  The film, which is set during the Cold War of 1981, is a throwback to the great character driven thrillers of the 1970s and 1980s like All the President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor, and Missing.  Despite not having any action sequences in it all, the big set piece scene is essentially the slowest “chase” scene you will ever see, Carion’s film is more suspenseful than most of the summer blockbusters that Hollywood has given us this year.

The film, which is based on a non-fiction book by Serguei Kostine, who co-wrote the screenplay with Carion, tells the parallel stories of real life KGB agent Vladimir Vetrov, renamed in the film as Sergei Gregoriev (Emir Kusturica) , and low level French spy Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet), who smuggled hundreds of pages of documents to NATO in 1981 and 1982.  Because of Carion’s examination of these two spies personal lives, this has to be one of the most unglamorous depictions of espionage ever put on film.  Both spies have marriages that are on the rocks and have strained relationship with their kids at best. The film also tells the events from the United States point of view.  Give Carion a lot of credit here for making these sequences interesting even though some might find them distracting.

Carion’s direction is simply remarkable here.  The film has a necessarily slow pace that fits right in with the lives of these two spies.    However Carion understands that in order to create suspsense, the stakes need to be known.  In every scene, we understand that the stakes are life and death.  The final set piece involving a traffic jam is one of the most suspenseful sequences of the year.

Canet’s performance is the definition of understatement, all of the emotions play out on his face.  Kusturica, a legendary Serbian director, is incredible as this charismatic and ultimately tragic man.  Alexandra Maria Lara does great work as Froment’s wife, as does Dina Korzun (remember her incredible work in Cold Souls) as Gregoriev’s co-worker/mistress.  Fred Ward plays Ronald Reagen and he does a good job avoiding caricature.  Willem Dafoe also has a powerful cameo towards the end.

Farewell is one of the best thrillers of the year.

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