With THE NAÏVE AND SENTIMENTAL LOVER already taken on an early novel, John Le Carré went with a second choice title that fits nearly as well. Or so you might imagine in this big, confidant 6-part thriller about international deal-making in the illegal arms trade. We’re hunting down a particularly vile, smooth operator (Hugh Laurie, a little one-note) with Olivia Colman: British Intelligence, 40-ish, pregnant, squeaky-wheel sort. She lucks into a possible, if unlikely, inside ‘plant’ in civilian Tom Hiddleston’s unattached hotelier. But is he willing? Is he up to it? (Or only distractingly buff?) Le Carré’s story may be just good enough to get by (would Laurie really fall for Hiddleston's coincidental return?), yet feels immensely satisfying, a throwback to comfort-zone suspensers without hand-held camera jitter, obfuscating techno-babble, or assistants furiously typing fake code. Civilized relief on an uncivil subject. If only the characters added up or the plotting didn't go limp in the middle episodes. As a hotel man looking for a cause, Tom Hiddleston falls into the spy racket with only moderate guilt & ennui as motivation; and his libido-induced missteps with Laurie’s chilly mistress (Elizabeth Debicki) are less amour fou than Hitchcock Faux.* (See NOTORIOUS/’46 and/or NORTH BY NORTHWEST/’59.) But so handsomely produced, debonaire in pacing, casting and in Susanne Bier’s stately, not stolid, formally beautiful helming. It gleans more pleasure from second-tier Le Carré than most find in first.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Le Carré remains unbeatable setting up red herrings & reversals of fortune, then fudges the easy stuff, like getting two people to bump into each other on the street.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Speaking of Hitch, watch Le Carré do a cameo, assaulted by a drunken Tom Hollander, great as Laurie’s gay aide-de-camp. (Hollander’s like Martin Landau in NbyNW.)