Farewell Review


Few could argue that Farewell treads new territory. Cold War thrillers have been done dozens of times before. But the story in this film, written and directed by Christian Carion, is so expertly crafted that it’s easy to forgive the sense of familiarity we feel throughout. And while the film isn’t airtight, it is taut enough to make two hours fly by in a whirl of intrigue and enjoyment.

Farewell tells the story of the man who did more to bring down the Soviet Union than anyone else in history. That man—Sergei Gregoriev (Emir Kusturica), code name: Farewell—fed vital intel to a French engineer, Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet). We meet the two individuals just as they begin their relationship. Sergei is a confident idealist; Pierre is a frightened civilian obligated to serve. But soon, both of their lives—both personal and professional—are spiraling out of control in a web of lies, shadiness, and double crosses among three different governments.

The chief pleasure of Farewell is seeing the surprising places the narrative takes you, so I won’t spoil its surprises here. Needless to say, however, I was consistently on my toes. But Carion never gets further than one step ahead of the viewer. This was great, and kind of rare for a motion picture of this nature. No lengthy expository scene is necessary to tie up all the loose ends. There are some reveals, but not so many as to insult our intelligence.

I also appreciated how Farewell and Pierre are such different individuals but follow such similar trajectories. Both have family troubles. Both get sold out by people they trusted. And despite their opposing views on duty and patriotism, they form a mutual respect for each other—a sort of “we only have each other” bond that’s unbreakable by necessity. And being that Farewell isn’t a major American motion picture, Carion is able to end things on a bleaker note than we usually see in films like this.

The acting is, for the most part, impeccable, as is necessary in a slow-burn thriller of this nature. Emir Kursturica is a name I was completely unfamiliar with, but he’s splendid here. His character is big and bombastic at first, but halfway through, something changes and he begins to slowly implode. It’s a commanding performance that contributes heavily to the film’s overall success. Guillaume Canet (beau of Marion Cotillard and director of the brilliant French thriller Tell No One) has a quieter, but no less important job to do. He’s our view into this world because we can relate to him more, and while Farewell piques our interest more, Pierre is the film’s heart.

The biggest problem I had with the film is the supporting work by Fred Ward. He plays Ronald Reagan, and it’s just sheer caricature. I’m sure Mr. Ward is a fine actor, and the screenplay is at least partially to blame, but the scenes with Reagan are rough. Better supporting work is offered by Alexandra Maria Lara and Ingeborga Dapkunaite as Pierre and Farewell’s wives, respectively. Also on hand are familiar faces Willem Dafoe and Diane Kruger. The former appears in only two scenes, the latter in one without uttering a single word. Just another sign that this isn’t a Hollywood motion picture.

The film I was reminded most of as I watched Farewell was The Lives of Others. I think, on the whole, Farewell is more successful, but both are entertaining and fascinating looks at the way of the world in the 1980s. Farewell’s scope is greater. Its pacing is more deliberate, and its narrative feels more active than the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner from a few years ago. It’s not The Bourne Identity or anything, but it’s a genuinely exciting film that I’m glad I had the chance to see.

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