Based upon the book of the same name by British espionage novelist John le Carré, this six-week mini-series event adapted by AMC had my attention from the very first episode. Full of strong performances—both lead and supporting—rich, contemporary backdrops, and pure, worldly cynicism, this show is a tension-fueled, entertaining romp through the world of illegal arms-dealing.
Although I missed the original airing of this special event back in April, I was sure to record it (and I’m glad I did). Having sat on my DVR for long enough, I didn’t want to put off watching it anymore. I was initially excited for this one; with the talent of Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie at the forefront, I was bound to enjoy the viewing experience.
And I did.
I appreciated the balance created by the director, Susanne Bier, in fleshing out Laurie’s villain character. AMC’s shows are renowned for their expert writing, but this facet is truly a refreshing one. Villains of both television and film aren’t always spelled out for the audience—as the only one that really “matters” is the hero, right?—but therein lays the problem: it’s genuinely hard to love-hate on a character if we don’t have a clue who they really are. That’s why I enjoy seeing well-written and rounded villains, like Laurie’s Richard Roper: he’s just another cog in the capitalist machine. As he says, “I’m not a murderer, I’ve never killed anybody,” he’s just a businessman, making his path through life the only way he knows how.
The plot of this mini-series is very Hitchcockian. The “wrong man” trope is made manifest in Hiddleston’s bad-ass protagonist, Jonathan Pine (I knew the man has range, but I’m glad to see that he won’t always play the comic book villain). The central “macguffin” that pushes the plot forward is embodied in the arms deal that’s set to go down in the latter episodes—which was intense, to say the least. The femme fatale—or multiple, in this case—played dually by Aure Atika and Elizabeth Debicki, in their respective roles, serve their parts well and are strongly-written, as is the “police inspector”, played by Olivia Colman (Broadchurch, Hot Fuzz). Most important, the grounded-in-reality nature of the story is welcomed in this age of spectacle and computer graphics, feeding off the shared fear of what the world really is, beneath all its glitz and glamor.
The camerawork, as well, is something to marvel at. Internal framing of characters, subtly establishing their true motives and mindsets, as well as close-ups of certain characters’ eyes in tense back-and-forths, scene-setting photography, and nigh-seamless cuts and jumps to other locales make for a smooth, captivating ride through the six-plus-hours spent on viewing. However, nothing’s without a few downsides…
As the show’s premise reads, Pine, the night manager at a Cairo hotel, is called upon by MI6 to infiltrate and bring down an international arms-dealing business, headed by Richard Roper, a thought-humanitarian. Events play out as they do, and Pine is eventually given reign over a good portion of Roper’s business…almost too smoothly. Roper seems too trusting of this outsider, whom he knows next-to-nothing about, and events thereafter play out in an unlikely way. I’m no espionage analyst, but save several lucky breaks I can recall in recent history, I can only judge television and film portrayals. This op goes far-too-smoothly, with the hiccups taking place mainly in the background, and not on the frontlines, where Pine is. For that, the show lost some credibility with me; it was an intense ride, don’t get me wrong, but not enough went wrong to keep it totally grounded in my idea of its reality. Pine is a hotelier, after all, and even his military background (hinted at, but never shown) could not prepare him for international espionage at that level.
The show’s climax came in an explosive way. The ending episode and a half brought everything full-circle—right back to where things started in the first—and just made what went down allthemore nail-biting. The wrap-up was neat, but not “tidy”—there are still things that need sorting out in the universe of the show, but not seeing that, I feel, is a good way to end it. I can formulate for myself where things and people go from where the show leaves them. I don’t need to see everything tied up and gift-wrapped to be happy with an ending—the “happily ever after” endings are, for the most part, lazy; The Night Manager left me wondering in the best way.
All that said, Susanne Bier’s The Night Manager gets a final ‘Risk Assessment of ****/*. If you’re late to the party, like I was, do catch up on this one. You won’t regret it.