Volume 80, Number 10 | August 5 - 11, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Koch on Film

By Ed Koch

“L’Affaire Farewell” (+)
The producers of this film claim that it is based on a true espionage event.  I have no way of knowing how much of the film is fictionalized, but the story is an interesting yarn.

K.G.B. colonel Sergei Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica) is married to Natasha (Ingeborga Dapkunaite). He has a teenage son, Igor (Evgenie Kharlanov), and a mistress, Alina (Dina Korzun). Sergei, who wants to bring down the Soviet Union by providing the U.S., France and Germany with highly confidential information, becomes a double agent and a spy for the CIA. He gives secret Soviet files to a Frenchman, Pierre (Guillaume Canet) — who is tapped for the job by the French and American spy agencies, because works for a commercial firm in Moscow and lives an unsuspicious life.

During the Cold War era in which this film is set, Leonid Brezhnev was the Soviet leader. Among the characters portrayed are Ronald Reagan (Fred Ward) and Francois Mitterrand (Philippe Magnan). There is enormous consternation when the plot is unveiled.

The impact on the two principals and their families occupies much of the movie. The most exciting part is the effort of Pierre and his family to leave the Soviet Union, once Pierre realizes the Soviets have uncovered his spy role. Will they make it? At the end, American intelligence agent Feeney (Willem Dafoe) puts the pieces of the puzzle together.

I’ve seen far better spy thrillers. Nothing comes close to “The Third Man” starring Orson Welles — but “Farewell” is certainly worth seeing. I saw the picture at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

Unrated. 1 hour, 53 minutes. In French, English and Russian (with English subtitles). At Landmark Sunshine Cinema (143 East Houston St.). For screening times, call 212-330-8182.

“Salt” (-)
The recent uncovering of a number of Russian spies in the U.S. — and the attempts to make Angelina Jolie a female James Bond character — will make this spy thriller appeal to some. Unfortunately, the plot is preposterous and, for me, the movie lacked interest or suspense.

In the film, Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is employed by the CIA and may be a Russian spy. It isn’t possible to reveal many details without giving away the wretched story — which involves the efforts of a Russian rogue spy operation to create a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia by killing the presidents of both countries and blaming American security agencies.

The rogue spymaster is Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), and the American security agents are Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The special effects allow Salt, who outdoes Wonder Woman in her athletic and gymnastic skills, to perform ridiculous physical feats such as jumping from the roof of one moving truck to another while the trucks speed down a highway.

I have never understood the powerful draw of Angelina Jolie on movie audiences. While the critics constantly refer to her sex appeal, I don’t see it. If you want to watch a performance of a believable, invincible woman go see “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” and “The Girl Who Played With Fire” — the first two films of the Swedish Trilogy based on Stieg Larsson’s novels. The star of those films, Noomi Rapace, engages in heroic physical activities that are both believable and exciting to watch.

To be fair, when I saw the film at the AMC Theater on Broadway and 19th St., a few in the audience applauded when the picture ended. Someone yelled out that they looked forward to the sequel. There may well be one, but I don’t plan on seeing it.

Henry Stern said:  “You have to take this movie with a thousand grains of salt. It requires more than the customary suspension of disbelief. Spying for one country is difficult enough, especially when the bad guys are trying to rat you out. One critic said the film was anti-American. I didn’t think so at all. In the movies, the authorities are always dopes.” 

Rated PG-13. 1 hour, 39 minutes. Currently playing at, among other places, AMC Loews Village 7 (66 3rd Ave.). For screening times, call 888-262-4386.

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