FILMS

A secret nest of spies

THE WHISTLE BLOWER Directed by Simon Langton

LAWRENCE O’TOOLE August 24 1987
FILMS

A secret nest of spies

THE WHISTLE BLOWER Directed by Simon Langton

LAWRENCE O’TOOLE August 24 1987

A secret nest of spies

FILMS

THE WHISTLE BLOWER Directed by Simon Langton

A portrait of a grey society where privacy is an unaffordable luxury, The Whistle Blower is a frightening—and absolutely first-rate—spy thriller. It focuses on Bob Jones (Nigel Havers), a Russian translator for the British government’s intelligence-gathering service, and his father, Frank (Michael Caine), a widower and Korean War veteran. Disillusioned with his job, Bob tells Frank early in the film that he would like to resign. He says that the British and Soviet secret services have become much the same thing, adding that “their secret world has put out the light of the ordinary world.” Frank, who has learned the value of hard-won financial security, begs his son to reconsider his position—particularly in view of a recent spy scandal that has rocked British intelligence. Later, Bob, under surveillance and close to reporting another and more serious scandal that he has discovered within the service, meets a conveniently accidental death. As the grief-stricken Frank becomes drawn into the intrigue, he begins to see the light of his own ordinary world dying.

Working like a time bomb, The Whistle Blower deftly builds suspense with a smart, complicated plot. Scriptwriter Julian Bond (The Shooting Par-

ty) has simplified John Hale’s Byzantine novel without ever losing its thrust or texture. And Simon Langton, who directed television’s Smiley's People-based on John le Carré’s novel of the same name—keeps the action clear and detailed as it moves from one astonishing disclosure to another. Frank’s investigation into his son’s death embraces a wide spectrum of British society: from the linchpin of the intrigue, a senior civil servant named Sir Adrian Chappie (Sir John Gielgud), to a lower-class, left-wing journalist, Bill Pickett (Kenneth Colley), who comes to Frank’s aid.

The Whistle Blower is graced with superb acting. As a simple, moral man whose faith in his country is seriously eroded, Caine gives one of the most compelling performances of his career. And Barry Foster, as his wartime friend who has advanced through the civil service but has shrunk as a human being, etches a memorable portrait of a successful careerist—and a pathetic man. James Fox and Gordon Jackson, as higher-ups within British intelligence, are appropriately officious and bitter. The Whistle Blower, whose tone recalls the forlorn and drab espionage universe of le Carré, paints the world as an overcast, terrifying place. Ultimately, it provides a chilling reminder of the limits of freedom in society.

-LAWRENCE O’TOOLE