Moscow. The early ’80s. A man gets into his car on a deserted street and a disembodied voice, belonging to disenchanted KGB operative Sergei Gregoriev (Kusturica), addresses him from the shadows. Gregoriev is the center of the so-called Farewell affair. He’s speaking to French businessman Pierre Froment (Canet), an intermediary who shepherds the secrets the Russian double agent steals to outside contacts. It’s a familiar setup, and anyone with an interest in spy movies will know that our heroes—spooks by day, family men by night—won’t have a smooth road.
Director Christian Carion (Merry Christmas) establishes a low-key yet threatening atmosphere right from the start, and gets terrific performances from Kusturica and Canet. They’re a perfectly matched onscreen odd couple—the former’s hulking brutishness pairs sublimely with the latter’s bespectacled dweebiness. And Carion wisely approaches both the characters and their actions with a persistently deadpan eye. Nothing is overemphasized for effect or a spell-breaking laugh; even a few appearances by Ronald Reagan (Ward), who hilariously unwinds by watching The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, feel strangely on point rather than caricatured. Carion isn’t reaching for the skies with Farewell (you never get the sense that this is a capital-G great movie), but he accomplishes an amazing amount within his intensely focused frame.—Keith Uhlich
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