Blu-ray Review: FAREWELL - Slow Plot Hinders Fascinating Cold War History

An important slice of Cold-War history it may be, however the plot can slow to a snail’s pace at times which can’t help but detract from overall enjoyment.

Farewell, released this week on Blu-ray and DVD, weaves the true story of Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet) a mild mannered engineer, who is chosen by disenfranchised Soviet General Sergei Gregoriev (Emir Kusturica) to be the go-between for the exchange of top-secret KGB intelligence to the American government. Willem Dafoe makes an appearance, as does Fred Ward in a great supporting performance as former President Ronald Reagan. Taking place in the early 1980€™s, we follow both Froment and Gergoriev as they attempt to juggle multiple secrets and lies in order to affect a change in the Soviet regime and the western world. The events surrounding Operation Farewell have been described since as some of the most important espionage of the 20th Century. The word €˜espionage€™ conjures up images of James Bond, or Jason Bourne; fast paced, fast cut action, drawn out scenes of tension where slick spies infiltrate even the most secure facilities. None of this is present in Farewell. In fact there is no focus on action. Instead our attention is drawn to the isolation and loneliness that is inevitably begat from a life of lies. Director Christian Carion conveys this well in his shot choice. From the frozen tundra that dominates the Russian landscape to the dank basements of the KGB intelligence archives where Gregoriev meets with his mistress; isolation is one of the key themes in Farewell and is reinforced constantly with its imagery. While Froment is forced to lie to and endanger his family, Gregoriev hides a love affair from his own wife and troubled son, as well as the fact that he is revealing state secrets to the U.S. Both characters fully believe in their cause but as a direct result both are driven further and further away from those that they love the most. The moralities of both central characters and indeed the endless list of agencies that operate around them are entirely grey; Farewell depicts a time when cross and double-cross were the way of the world. Wars were fought with information and it was never clear exactly who was working in whose interest. It was a web of deceit with Froment and Gregoriev at the centre of its destruction. The rock band Queen feature strategically, most notably in a scene in which Gregoriev€™s son stands alone on a picnic table imitating his idol Freddie Mercury, surrounded by ferns as if they were his own private audience. Although Queen had little to do with the Cold War itself, their connotations of freedom and equality act as a metaphor for the feelings of the Russian people toward the state of their Communist government by the early 1980€™s. Despite the films strengths it has its share of weaknesses. While its imagery and tone are solid, the constant moral ambiguity of the characters can become tedious at times. Tension hinges on coincidence and lapses into incompetence, rather than gathering meaning from the motivations of the characters or the events of the plot. This is often the case in a €˜true story€™ and usually the reason that films based on actual events are vamped up with action or layered with imagined tension. I€™m not saying that Farewell should have featured a car chase, but this classier treatment of the subject matter has inevitably had a negative influence on the films excitement level. Farewell tells an important story, one that played a colossal part in the continued development of the western world. However it€™s pacing is slow, choosing not to focus on the tension of the situation but on the ambiguous emotional states of its characters. As a result, the movie slows to a crawl at points and although its story is compelling enough, its run-time spreads the enjoyment unnecessarily thin. With nothing in the way of extras, this Blu-ray version relies on the film itself to justify its price-tag. A must if you are a cold war enthusiast- for everyone else, maybe consider a rental. Film €“ 2/5 An important slice of Cold-War history it may be, however the plot can slow to a snail€™s pace at times which can€™t help but detract from overall enjoyment. Visuals €“ 3/5 Director Christian Carion uses imagery well, and the shockingly bleak locations look satisfyingly crisp on Blu Ray. Audio €“ 4/5 What€™s not to love about Queen? And with a great score, presented in 5.1 the audio feels full and satisfying. Extras - 0/5 Apart from an extended sequence of trailers before you get to the main menu, there is absolute zero on the extras front. Presentation €“ 2/5 With a few stock images on a loop comprising the menu and little else to do other than the movie, I can€™t help but feel the space of the Blu-Ray has been underused. Overall €“ 2/5 Vastly overvalued at premium price blu-ray, Farewell has an interesting enough plot driven by often un-compelling characters. However, I can€™t get past the generally lackluster tone and complete lack of any interesting features. Farewell is out now on Blu-ray.
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