This review of was written for the cablecast of "The Company."
8-10 p.m. Sundays, Aug 5.-Aug. 19
Originally conceived as a feature film, TNT turned Mark Littell's voluminous and barely fictional novel about the workings of the CIA (known as "The Company" to its employees) into a three-part miniseries. As adapted by Ken Nolan, each part is nearly a stand-alone tale of the murky and morally ambiguous world of spies and counterspies.
Even with a six-hour canvas, Nolan had to crop a lot of Littell's picture of CIA adventures (and, more often, misadventures) from the onset of the Cold War after World War II to the breakup of the Soviet Union nearly four decades later. Each part dramatizes the role the CIA played in historic events (the formation of competing secret spy agencies, the hunt for "moles," the Hungarian uprising, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the decline of the KGB). The recurrence of about a half-dozen intelligence figures unifies the whole.
Although fascinating for its portraits of the men who saw themselves as guardians of gates that protected democracy from the Goths -- and pocked with suspense -- "Company" has only a tiny number of feel-good moments. In most instances in which the CIA went head-to-head with the KGB, the bad guys won.
At the end, Harvey "The Sorcerer" Torriti (Alfred Molina), the CIA's former Berlin chief, congratulates the Company for besting its Soviet rivals. "We screwed up a lot less than they did. That's why we won," he said. The more obvious explanation, however, was that the Soviet system imploded. Up until that point, the KGB was doing just fine, thank you.
Still, you can forgive Torriti his spin. Like most career CIA agents, he was in it for idealistic reasons, not for the danger or the pay. The same was true of his communist counterparts. Indeed, a key point made by Littell and observed by Nolan is that both agencies were more alike than either would care to admit.
In the opener, the CIA recruits Jack McAuliffe (Chris O'Donnell) and Leo Kritzky (Alessandro Nivola) out of Yale. McAuliffe becomes an apprentice to Torriti; Kritzky rises quickly through the ranks in Washington. Torriti, through diligent detective work, unmasks Adrian Philby (Tom Hollander), the British intelligence liaison, as a KGB agent. That is an enormous shock to James Angleton (Michael Keaton), the obsessive CIA counterintelligence master.
The second episode splits its time between two of the CIA's greatest blunders: the ill-fated Hungarian uprising of 1956 and the poorly planned Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961. In the finale, the focus is on finding the mole who undermined the CIA for decades.
Bleak but intriguing, "Company" is a brilliant reflection of the mind-set that dominated world politics for a half century. Solid performances are the rule, with special applause for Molina and Keaton. Director Mikael Salomon effectively uses darkness and shadows to illustrate the clandestine environment as well as metaphors for this grim historical era.
A Scott Free/John Calley production in association with Sony Pictures Television
Executive producers: John Calley, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott
Co-executive producers: David A. Rosemont, David W. Zucker
Producer: Robert Bernacchi
Co-producers: Rola Bauer, Jonas Bauer, Carrie Stein, Nicholas Witkowski
Director: Mikael Salomon
Teleplay: Ken Nolan
Based on the book by: Robert Littell
Director of photography: Ben Nott
Production designer: Marek Dobrowolski
Editors: Scott Vickrey, Robert A. Ferretti
Music: Jeff Beal
Set decorator: Christina Kuhnigk
Casting: Denise Chamian, Scout Masterson
Jack McAuliffe: Chris O'Donnell
Harvey "The Sorcerer" Torriti: Alfred Molina
James Jesus Angleton: Michael Keaton
Leo Kritzky: Alessandro Nivola
Yevgeny Tsipin: Rory Cochrane
Elizabet Nemeth: Natascha McElhone
Adrian Philby: Tom Hollander
Starik: Ulrich Thomsen
Frank Wisner: Ted Atherton
Arpad Zelk: Misel Maticevic