Judge Gordon Sullivan has a sinister Russian accent.
He holds the key to saving the world
Some days I feel bad for writers of espionage thrillers. Once the U.S.S.R. broke up and the Cold War was largely over but the shouting, the international situation became progressively more fractured. It was no longer easy to find an enemy who could be characterized with an a thick Russian accent. Although the lack of a unified enemy has made the life of writers more difficult, audiences have been treated to increasingly more interesting and complex fictions as authors rose to the challenge of portraying the life of spies in the modern world. There are, however, exceptions. Despite its twenty-first century pedigree (and the occasional nod to the world's current geopolitical situation), The Diplomat (Blu-ray) tries to go old school, with an MI-6 conspiracy, a Russian bad guy, and a lone diplomat with the truth thrust into the middle. This two-part television movie has good intentions and solid execution, but its marred by overreliance on stereotypes and a slow first half.
Facts of the Case
A random drug-sniffing dog uncovers a cache of heroin in a diplomatic shipment. The police detain the diplomat responsible, Ian Porter (Dougray Scott, Ever After), but he's not saying anything. He's silent because he's really working for Britain's Secret Intelligence Service. The heroin was going to be smuggled to earn the trust of Russian crime boss Sergei Krousov (Don Hany, The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce). The police, hoping he will confess, sequester Porter and his ex-wife (Claire Forlani, Meet Joe Black) in witness protection in Australia. With his ex-wife involved, Porter must find a way to escape from custody and complete his deal with Krousov.
The second part of The Diplomat (also known as False Witness, a name that makes little sense) is actually a pretty decent little spy thriller, albeit one with nothing new to bring to the espionage table. As the second part starts, Porter is a man on the run, away from his native land, and in possession of a key that is desperately desired by a Russian crime boss and Britain's MI-6. Between the frequent flashbacks and the unfolding of the political machinations foreshadowed in the first part, this second half is almost a standalone piece about a hunted man on the run. Porter, as the prey, engages in the stereotypical actions: he hides out in an unusual place (in this case, a brothel), receives help from a kindly stranger, and eventually has to turn to one of his pursuers for help to unravel his betrayers' plans. It's nothing shocking, but it is fairly well-executed, with some decent chase scenes and enough tension to keep the story moving to the passable conclusion.
Dougray Scott keeps the whole show on the road with his portrayal of Ian Porter. He's mostly just a strong-jawed face in action scenes, but occasionally he's allowed to open up about his character's tortured past, and the results are compelling. Richard Roxburgh, as Porter's ambitious MI-6 handler, has much more backbone here than many of his previous characters (at least on American shores). Clair Forlani is sympathetic as Porter's ex-wife, and although she's mostly there for eye-candy and to give Porter something to fight for, Forlani makes the character work for her. Even Don Hany manages to keep Sergei from being a total caricature of the typical Russian baddie.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The real problem with The Diplomat is the entirety of Part One. This is an hour-and-a-half of wasted time as Part Two is set up. Although the initial situation—the drug bust in a diplomatic container—is compelling, once we're introduced to Porter this half goes downhill rapidly. We're not given enough information about his involvement with MI-6 to make that aspect of his character interesting. Instead, The Diplomat spends an inordinate amount of time telling us (complete with flashbacks) about the disintegration of Porter's marriage after the tragic loss of his son. It's sad stuff, but here it plays like a soap opera's stereotypical shorthand. Instead of giving the character emotional depth, the continual hammering on his haunted past detracts from the espionage at hand. The few flashbacks to Part One at the start of the second half provide enough backstory to render the first hour-and-a-half largely superfluous.
The Diplomat is also not particularly well served with this Blu-ray release. The 1.78:1 VC-1 encoded transfer looks merely okay. Detail is strong in closeup shots and black levels are pretty consistent, but shimmer and noise are sometimes present in longer shots. The transfer isn't bad, but considering the amount of post-processing done to the image it generally looks a bit off. The audio fares a little better. Dialogue is crisp and clear, the rare explosions boom appropriately, and the surrounds get a bit of a workout during chase scenes and the like. The only extra is a DVD copy of the film on a second disc.
The Diplomat strives mightily to be a solid espionage vehicle in the classic vein. The second half is a pedestrian approximation of an action/spy thriller, and fans of the actors involved might get something out of the film's second half. Only those with a taste for soap operatics should brave the lackluster first half. This Blu-ray release is adequate, but hardly spectacular, and is probably only worth a rental even to fans.
The Diplomat skates by on a decent second half. Not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
Review content copyright © 2010 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.