Review by Matt Cummings
With serious talk swirling around a replacement for Daniel Craig as James Bond, Actor Tom Hiddleston seemed like the last person anyone assumed would suddenly vault to the top of that particular food chain. But this was before the BBC and Sony mini-series THE NIGHT MANAGER – UNCENSORED EDITION, an slow-burn spy masterpiece that unconventionally pits its lead against the world of shady arms dealing. Its arrival on Blu-ray provides us with a Zero Point to measure Hiddleston both Pre- and Post-Bond talk.
For respected hotelier night manager Thomas Pine (Hiddleston), life revolves around providing excellent service to his fashionable guests at a hotel in Cairo. But as the 2011 revolution sweeps through the country, Pine learns that an arms deal lead by the wealthy industrialist Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) will destroy any meaningful progress there by very violent means. Determined to help after the death of a guest, Pine is recruited by MI-6 agent Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate Roper’s organization, whose deep financial ties to many governments makes him impossible to arrest. AFter ditching the sliver platter for a new and dangerous identity, Pine uses his skills as a former soldier to gather Roper’s attention and that of his beautiful girlfriend Jed (Elizabeth Debicki) who harbors secrets of her own. Stuck between two very different worlds, this former night manager must upend a long-standing terrorist network without losing himself to a world that once exacted from him a very personal price.
Having known nothing about this series, I thought THE NIGHT MANAGER – UNCENSORED EDITION would perhaps be a smaller story taking place perhaps in a single location over a relatively short period of time. But this is a sweeping production that’s also a very small one about people’s former lives impacting their current ones. For Hiddleston, it’s about revisiting his past to wade deep into Roper’s sinister world. For the very good Laurie, it’s about balancing sympathetic with psychopath, a man who loves his family but will kill them all in an effort to “open the lines of commerce” as he so eloquently puts it in episode 1. For the Bond-esque Jed, it’s about parading her sex around as the room as a means to hide a dark secret that is slowly consuming her. Even the good guys at MI-6 have something to hide, as their departments squabble in inter-agency threats, as Pine’s handlers are constantly challenged to leak his name so Roper can end him. That sounds more like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION, not a plot for a Bond movie (which is usually as convoluted as a threesome), but it works just as well as any other spy flick including more straight-forward ones like the very good JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT. Start thinking THE BOURNE IDENTITY in terms of deception and you’re on the right track.
With MANAGER, Director Susanne Bier and Writer Steven Farr boldly announce that one doesn’t need explosions or gunfire to make a great spy film, intelligently moving their pieces around the board like a chessmaster. The actors are in fine form here as they soak up the exotic locations including Switzerland, The United Kingdom, Morocco, Spain, Egypt, and Turkey. Bier gives each of them plenty of moments to chew scenery as well. But this isn’t all appealing locale eye candy, as Bier also understands pacing, keeping the laser tightly focused on Pine’s infiltration. This feels like effective spycraft, with Pine’s handlers even being denied news until small scraps of data begin to flow into their safehouse, touching off what becomes a fire sale at MI-6. It really feels like Hiddleston is on his own to navigate Laurie’s brilliance as a bad guy, with the guys oozing tons of chemistry. Colman is fantastic as the King-and-Country agent who soon becomes aware of just how much Roper controls her agency and what she must do might end her career and even her life at the hands of one of her own.
THE NIGHT MANAGER is based on a novel by master spy novelist John Le Carre (TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, A MOST WANTED MAN, THE TAILOR OF PANAMA), who turns the plot into so much more than the typical genre piece. THE NIGHT MANAGER is classic Le Carre slow burn, merging the opulence of a Bond movie while granting us with richly-drawn characters that also look great, thanks to Cinematographer Michael Snyman. While bathing the mini-series in warm colors and sharp detail, he also chooses unconventional angles from which to shoot, especially at the end of episode 3. Snyman’s work on the equally impressive (but very different) STRIKE BACK is evidence that he can work in multiple spy environments with lavish results.
And while some of the characters are decidedly one-layered – including the homosexual Lance Corkoran (Tom Hollander) and Roper’s womanizing money man (Alastair Petrie) – they’re pawns in this chess game which feels right at home at just six episodes. True, some will complain of its slow pace, but that’s the true world of spycraft, where information trickles in, loyalties take time to flourish, and a spy’s loyalties can sometimes falter as they’re constantly surrounded by lesser beings. That’s THE NIGHT MANAGER and our world in general, which makes it especially appropriate given the high tension of today’s events.
Video quality for THE NIGHT MANAGER is impressive from start to finish, making this co-production between BBC, AMC, and Sony shine. The MPEG-4/AVC transfer is nearly perfect, minus a bit of banding in the first 10 minutes of episode 1. But for the most part, every stitch and hair (including one that plays a huge part in Pine’s plan) is easily seen. Moreover, we can see grain (perhaps manufactured) and sharp detail throughout, especially as Snyman closes in on Hiddleston’s face and even eyeball when displaying tension. Colors are a tad saturated to make it look rich, and the effect works without over-coloring Hiddleston’s perfect coif, Debecki’s lingerie, or the well-apportioned sets. Outdoor scenes ring even better: check out Roper’s stone hideaway in Spain, where you can see individual stones in the buildings as Snyman passes over it. Shadows and blacks play well here, and the entire image looks like it’s been bathed in Bond-esque styling. It’s perhaps the best looking video for a television series I’ve seen this year, and considering the $39m budget it looks like Beir spent every bit of it.
THE NIGHT MANAGER present a top-notch audio experience, sporting an elegant DTS-HD Master Audio transfer that feels like you’re watching a movie and not a small-batch television series. Our 5.1 setup highlights the various worlds of Jonathan Pine in ways both big and small. The center channel brings forth crystal clear dialogue which is actually “mixed-up” from the rest of the track; you can still hear music and other effects there, but they occupy an extremely small footprint. Left and right forward channels allow us to enjoy perfect phasing as well as individual sounds like cars passing across the screen. While not the most active portion, the surrounds reveal scattered crowd noise, office chatter, and water crashing onto the beach, while Composer Victor Reyes’ soundtrack plays very well through the 4’s. His music mixes elements like the ingenious title cards depicting elements of elegance (champagne, jewels, and fine hotel pieces) which merge into high-powered weapons.
Our evaluation copy as a Blu-ray/UV Digital Copy set. There is no slipcase, but the interior artwork more than makes up for it, displaying plot summaries for each of the six episodes. Given the high pricetag it took to produce MANAGER, I would have hoped that a slipcase might have been added, along with a Le Carre retrospective. The lack of supplements might be a deal breaker for some, so you’ll have to decide if these seemingly random decisions make a difference to your bottom line.
THE NIGHT MANAGER – UNCENSORED EDITION is the kind of spy thriller that begs for your attention. Sure, gunfire and explosions always play well in spy films, but it’s an imminently more satisfying experience to see Hiddleston and team slow-burn true spycraft to such perfection. Video and audio are superb, but the lack of a director’s commentary or long-form EPX featurette will keep some from checking it out. But I suggest you do: It is unconventional in its storytelling, gorgeous to watch, and an absolute must-see 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.