Tuned In

Dead Tree Alert: Company's Coming

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In the print TIME this week, a brief review of TNT’s six-hour CIA miniseries The Company, debuting Sunday night. I’m loath to expand on it, because the review is the only thing brief associated with this mini. A history of the cold war told through the stories of a set of American and Russian spies, it covers much the same thematic and historical ground as last year’s movie The Good Shepherd, which was slack and bloated at half the length.

Yes, it’s stupid to criticize a miniseries for being long, since length is the point of the format. The problem here isn’t absolute length, it’s the ratio of length to fresh, worthwhile story. Spanning the ’50s to the ’90s, this fictionalized history spends too much time on too many too-often-told stories; the disaster of The Bay of Pigs, for instance, was almost breezily treated in The Good Shepherd as opposed to the nearly half of a two-hour episode it gets here.

There are high points, particularly Michael Keaton as paranoid mole-hunter James Jesus Angleton, whose obsession with double agents–maybe unfounded, maybe not–drives him to amoral, if not borderline insane, measures. Chris O’Donnell, as an idealistic, then disillusioned agent is more of a nonentity, though I suppose his performance has the same kind of blank-canvas appeal as Matt Damon’s inscrutable Good Shepherd character.

There’s a good, thought-provoking movie in here somewhere, particularly when The Company focuses on the intramural mole hunt and power dynamics in the agency; but it seems as though it could have better been told in a two- or three-hour movie. The Company’s seeming need to tell every story of the cold war gets in the way of its telling its one compelling story, which is to show the lengths that the intelligence competition drove the U.S. and U.S.S.R. to, and asking “Was it worth it?”

Spy-drama diehards–who may have liked The Good Shepherd better than I did–may disagree, but as far as The Company goes, my answer to that question is no.

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