Shopping Sites



Bullet to Beijing

A very complicated surface serves two purposes: it’s entertaining for its own sake with some twists and turns and gags like the flight to Irkutsk and the Petersburg cabaret with its puzzled Lenin and strippers in Red Army garb, and furthermore it diffuses a plausible scenario into a structure you finally grasp independent of its anecdote—it’s important you do this, a matter of life and death, as Harry Palmer discovers at the end of the trail.

After the amazing London opener and Palmer made redundant in a budget crunch, Mihalka moves the whole unit to Russia as Fred Schepisi did in The Russia House, and this is decisive, this is everything. At the end you see a simulacrum of Beijing (formerly known as Peking—St. Petersburg was more drastically rechristened as Petrograd and Leningrad, to the annoyment of decadent intellectuals such as Diaghilev and Nabokov), but this is the real McCoy.

Formally, the decisive factor is a seeming interpolation of Bond action on the Neva, but this dizzying rumble is designed like Muhammad Ali’s footwork to make anything possible in any direction at a moment’s notice. Things get very hot and heavy aboard the train and thereafter, so a pinpoint readiness to grasp the image and solve for x is required.

All the acting is quite refined, especially Michael Gambon’s rather wonderful technocrat. He’s first seen descending a staircase in the palace like Eisenstein in color, and his reappearance after the formidable machinations of the plot have been revealed is very droll.

The film has elements of Billion Dollar Brain, and the plot something of Funeral in Berlin: Alex the Technocrat arranges to sell deadly chemical weaponry to North Korea under CIA auspices in exchange for heroin, but the weapon is a phony and the CIA operative is a DEA agent. Palmer is a sacrificial lamb; when the North Koreans find out they’ve been deceived, they make a deal with the Russian Mafia.