Based on the novel by master British spy novelist John Le Carre, The Russia House is as classy, smooth, and elegant as the jazz score Jerry Goldsmith wrote for it, which features the saxophone strains of Branford Marsalis. Director Fred Schepisi shot the film in several Russian cities which gives it a sumptuous palate and corresponds with the lush ironies and scope of Tom Stoppard's script. Schepisi and Stoppard draw parallels in the film between sex and spying, making you wonder exactly who is doing it to whom, but they do it with none of the vulgar humor John Boorman later used to good but obvious effect in The Tailor of Panama. If anything, The Russia House is supposed to be a love story, but there's a certain distance between Connery and Pfeiffer that makes the romance the film's least convincing aspect. The better scenes concern the spying, with Fox and Scheider displaying better chemistry than Connery and Pfeiffer. Fox gives his role an understated dignity and idealistic grace that contrasts nicely with Scheider's bluntness and ersatz vulgarity. The film also features strong supporting work from John Mahoney, the late J.T. Walsh, the director Ken Russell, and Klaus-Maria Brandauer as the Russian scientist named Dante. In two sharp scenes, Brandauer effectively conveys the world-weariness and almost desperate need for redemption that would force a man to commit treason to escape from a moral hell that would rival that of his namesake. Like Presumed Innocent, which was also released in 1990, The Russia House is the work of a great director, writer, and cast turning a fine novel into a very good and serious film.
by Nick Sambides, Jr. review