Taut, lean spy thriller starring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, a rogue British operative who investigates the theft of a mind control device. The outlandish premise notwithstanding, the film actually takes a surprisingly realistic approach to the spy film, especially considering the concurrent James Bond films of the era. The scenarios seem to be more corporate than kinky or spectacular, and the sexual dynamics that occur seem very organic and real in contrast to Bond’s coital escapades. Caine as Harry Palmer is also a wild deviation from James Bond, as well as Austin Powers who he vaguely resembles (this is what probably got Caine the gig as his father in Goldmember). The opening credits show him not fucking or killing, but meticulously making himself breakfast; while he’s insubordinate, we know he is capable merely through the way he interacts with his environment. Being a ruthless killer, a rogue agent, and a fairly lecherous man take their toll on him, and he is a very cagey, impersonal figure, rather than a suave demi-god. While he is very smart, he is very much capable of pain, both physical and emotional, and watching him endure grounds the events in a fairly realistic tone. The film is also slower than a Bond film, by nature of the film’s less sensational throughline and settings, but the style behind the camera is far more lively than in the Bond pictures. The staging and cinematography are top notch and very provocative, far more professional and nuanced than the good majority of spy films. The story seems, but is not, predictable, and the third act, raising the stakes on a very frightening and psychological level, is absolutely sensational and unexpected.
Highly Recommended for fans of intelligent, deliberate espionage films a la The Day of the Jackal or The Parallax View, which this mildly resembles. However, I must say I enjoyed this far more than The Parallax View, for its tone, its acting, and its unconventional directorial choices.