The Looking Glass War (1970)

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I’ve never been a spy before. It will be a new experience for me.  Polish defector Leiser (Christopher Jones) is lured into the world of espionage by a shadowy adjunct to MI6 run by Leclerc (Ralph Richardson) and Haldane (Paul Rogers) with the promise of British residency so that he can see his pregnant girlfriend (Susan George). Trouble is she’s aborted the baby and he drowns his sorrows with his training operative John Avery (Anthony Hopkins) before entering East Germany to clarify if blurred photographs from Hamburg are proof of a missile site. He pairs up with Anna (Pia Degermark) who wants out from the Iron Curtain and together they embark on a treacherous undertaking with high risks and mixed results … Never lean on your opponent.  Never lose your temper.  And why fight over a knife when there’s a gun under your arm? This adaptation of John le Carré’s novel by writer/director Frank Pierson starts with an intriguing encounter at an airport which winds up with a roadside death. Accident? This downbeat deconstruction of the spy’s life continues in the vein of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and its satirical intent is conveyed in that first sequence – the spy can’t get taxi expenses and loses the film he’s paid a pilot to smuggle, killed by a camper van sliding along the snowy road. The author claimed it’s the most accurate depiction of his own experiences in espionage – including a misplaced longing for the glory days of WW2, utter incompetence and the futility of much intelligence activity. However the tone of anti-nostalgia in this story of The Department’s ineptitude is sacrificed for a more straightforward (and duller) exposition. The classic character of George Smiley is dropped from the source novel. There are plenty of incidental pleasures however, not least the cinematography by Austin Dempster; Jones’ gear (like a forerunner of Robert Redford’s getup in Three Days of the Condor), all peacoat and steel-rimmed mirror shades; a rare performance by Elvira Madigan herself, Degermark; and a score that is both modish and interesting from Wally Stott (responsible for arranging Scott Walker’s first three solo albums) who changed sex two years later and became Angela Morley. Morals are a bitch on heat

Hanna (2011)

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This begins like a rattle of machine gun fire and never lets up, from the white on red title to the sensational series of action sequences that emboss a very modern fairytale. Hanna (the extravagantly gifted Saoirse Ronan) is being trained as a killer by her dad, incognito agent (the fantastic Eric Bana) when people come looking for them in their Nordic hideout. She goes on the run after escaping her captors led by Cate Blanchett. The trans-Europe chase takes place in spectacular fashion, hiding with an English family on holiday, having regular teenage experiences, then the chickens coming home to a grisly roost in Grimm’s playground in Berlin …This came from the brain of Seth Lochhead who did the screenplay with David Farr. It’s about breeding children in labs, family, friendship, squaring accounts, training the military and nightmarish reality versus storytelling. Ronan asked her Atonement director Joe Wright to take it on. It is spectacular from start to finish with an amazing soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers. One of my favourite films of the last decade. Really something. (Maybe you shouldn’t watch if you’re the product of IVF. Just saying).