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A network of older spies from the West recruits a young intelligence officer with a photographic memory to accompany them on a mission inside Russia. They must recover a letter written by the CIA that promises American assistance to Russia if China gets the atomic bomb. Written by
I will never forget the image of Ward whispering 'We will do anything...' as Bresnavitch's (Welles' appearance is almost a cameo; purely setup for the story) face is caught in the flicker of the projector (see the movie to understand his fear) . The 'cruelty' of the game is played out in these few moments.
The story line is simple and I won't repeat it here. I will say that from the Highwayman's exit (near the beginning) to the final revelation, the film is non-stop. George Sanders is a bonus. Not absolutely necessary to the story but certainly an amplification of the stakes involved.
Ward is the key to the story (no pun intended). Rone is drawn in for his memory. The Whore, jaded and disinterested in anything other than his immediate existence agrees to participate for money... or perhaps something else.
Remember the opening scene in Mission Impossible (Tom Cruise version)? Phelps' wife is drugged and the race is on to get the information so she can be given the antidote. Contrast this 'we're in it together' attitude with the 'I'm in it for myself' attitude of the Kremlin Letter; lots of lies and deception, but completely self-serving. Not a platitude in sight. A refreshing 'honesty' for the new millennium... from a film nearly thirty years old.
Having seen several versions including the original theatrical release, television cut and the second theatrical release I can understand the misconceptions surrounding this film.
This film is extremely violent. The violence is not the '90's variety. You aren't shown it but you feel it. Bresnavitch's fear... Rone's 'matter of fact' attitude... Ward's 'direction'... The Highwayman's' resignation...
Oh, the method for Russian/English/Russian translation must be experienced. It might not be a first but I haven't seen it in any film since.
Finally I must add that there is not one likeable character in this movie... they are all far too human.
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