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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Blu-ray Review: #TheNightManager

The Night Manager - Uncensored Edition is engrossingly dark elegance with a chocolate on the hotel bed.

Review by Matt Cummings
With all the talk about a replacement being sought for Daniel Craig as James Bond, Actor Tom Hiddleston was perhaps the last person anyone assumed would suddenly vault to the top of everyone's list. But that was before the BBC mini-series The Night Manager - Uncensored Edition, an engrossing, unconventionally dark free fall into the world of shady arms dealing. Its arrival on Blu-ray gives us a Zero Point to measure Hiddleston both Pre- and Post-Bond.

For respected hotelier night manager Thomas Pine (Hiddleston), life revolves around assisting his well-to-do guests at a fashionable hotel in Egypt. But as a revolution sweeps through the country, Pine learns that an arms deal lead by the wealthy industrialist Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) will attempt to circumvent any progress made by very violent means. Determined to help, Pine is eventually recruited by MI-6 operative Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate Roper's organization, whose worldwide ties make him impossible to arrest. Pine travels to exotic locations to establish a new and dangerous identity, using his skills as a former soldier to gather Roper's attention and that of his girlfriend Jed (Elizabeth Debicki). Straddling himself between two very different worlds, this former night manager must destroy a terrorist network without losing himself to the game which once exacted from him a very personal price.

Based on the plot summary, I thought The Night Manager - Uncensored Edition would perhaps take place in a single location over a relatively short period of time. And yet, this is a sweeping - and at the same time very small - production about people and the choices they make. For Hiddleston, it's about using his past to wade deep into Roper's world, all for King and County of course. For Laurie, it's about playing a sort of sympathetic psychopath, one who loves his family but apparently few others in an effort to "open the lines of commerce" as he puts it. For his squeeze Jed, it's about parading her overtly sexual attitude around as a web of lies slowly consumes her. Everyone has something to hide here, even the good guys: the inter-agency MI-6 squabbling is a threatening one, as Pine's handlers are constantly challenged to give up his name so one of them can run to Roper with all the details. That's not the cut-and-dry plot we're used to seeing in spy films, even ones as good as Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Think more The Bourne Identity and you're at least on the right path, and yet you'l be nowhere near it.

Director Susanne Bier and Writer Steven Farr boldly state here that one doesn't need explosions and gunfire to make a great genre piece, deftly moving their pieces on the board like a chessmaster. You can tell the troupe of actors is thoroughly enjoying the romp, as shooting locations include the truly exotic (Switzerland, United Kingdom, Morocco, Spain, Egypt, and Turkey), while giving them all moments to chew scenery. Those fancy locales do serve as appealing eye candy, but Bier also understands pacing, which she keeps tightly focused on Pine's infiltration. This is the key to effective spycraft, even denying Pine's handlers news until small scraps of data begin to flow into the MI-6 safehouse and the larger plan begins to take shape. Hiddleston and Laurie share lots of screen time, oozing tons of chemistry, while Colman is fantastic as the agency woman who becomes keenly aware of just how much Roper controls the agency she so bravely serves.

Based on a novel by master spy novelist John Le Carre (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Tailor of Panama, A Most Wanted Man), Night Manager is so much more than the typical genre piece. Night Manager fashions itself as classic Le Carre slow burn, borrowing the opulence of a Bond movie but adding richly-drawn characters that also look great, thanks to Cinematographer Michael Snyman. He bathes the mini-series in warm colors and sharp detail but at times also chooses unconventional angles from which to shoot. Our Blu-ray evaluation copy brought out every achievement by Snyman, who was the cameraman for several episodes of the equally impressive Strike Back.

Video quality is impressive, with every stitch and every hair (including a strand in particular that plays an important role for Pine), adding to the production value from BBC. The MPEG-4/AVC transfer is nearly perfect, minus a bit of banding in the first 10 minutes of episode 1. There's grain and sharp detail throughout, especially as Snyman closes in on Hiddleston's face and even eyeball when displaying tension. The audio too is top-notch, sporting an elegant DTS-HD Master Audio environment that played very well in our 5.1 setup. You can hear water crashing onto the beach in the rears and all dialogue is clearly heard in the center channel. Composer Victor Reyes' big soundtrack effectively merges with the title cards which depict elegant hotel accouterments (along with champagne and jewels) merging into high-powered weapons. For the first time in recent memory, the interior to the two-disc set sports interior artwork, including plot summaries for the six episodes. Our copy did not include a slipcase, but the interior artwork more than makes up for it.

The Night Manager - Uncensored Edition is the kind of spy thriller we need more of. Sure, gunfire and explosions always play well, but it's an imminently more satisfying experience to see Hiddleston and team slow-burn true spycraft to such perfection. It is unconventional in its storytelling, but don't let that deter you from checking out one of 2016's best mini-series. The Night Manager - Uncensored Edition is rated TV-14 for sex, nudity, profanity, use of alcohol, drugs, and casual smoking and has a runtime of 361 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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