Sunday 24 April 2022

Movie Review: The Whistle Blower (1986)

A Cold War domestic spy drama, The Whistle Blower examines the corrosive effects of internecine mistrust.

In England, Frank Jones (Michael Caine) is a retired intelligence officer now running a small business. His son Bob (Nigel Havers) is an admirer of Russian culture employed by Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) as a language specialist. Britain's intelligence community is rocked by the revelation that high-ranking official Dodgson (Bill Wallis) is a Soviet spy, and the government fears America will lose trust in Britain and stop sharing intelligence.

An elaborate secret plan is activated to flush-out Dodgson's fellow-conspirators, while Bob grows disillusioned at the corrosive culture of suspicion seeping into his workplace. When other intelligence officers start to die, Bob decides to blow the whistle, and Frank is reluctantly drawn back into a world of intrigue.

A British production adapting the John Hale book and directed by Simon Langton, The Whistle Blower is a well-constructed John le Carré-type grey spy drama. The multiplying dead bodies do become far-fetched and the exact nature of the whistle blowing is more MacGuffin than scandal, but otherwise this is a satisfying, cerebral, and caustic exposé of the intelligence industry feeding on its young.

The movie derives strength from insularity. All the key characters are British, suspiciously circling each other as fear of treason becomes a self-inflicted poison. How the Americans may perceive an incompetent Britain riddled with compromised agents is the overriding concern. Langton and co-writer Julian Bond expand this theme to encompass doubts besetting the guardians of a crumbling Empire reduced to pleasing others instead of exerting dominance.

Elsewhere the exasperating protections afforded by a permanent class system emerge as another unhelpful pillar of the British structure. Frank, Bob, and scrappy reporter Bill Pickett (Kenneth Colley) are working class men easily used or discarded.  Well-connected aristocrats like agent-turned-fixer Charles Greig (Barry Foster) and Sir Adrian Chapple (John Gielgud) play by different rules altogether.

In a weighty and fully engaged performance, Michael Caine trudges through the drizzle with a resigned sense of fading pride in his country. Once a servant and now a father, his Frank Jones is forced to question everything he once stood for, but The Whistle Blower finds no moments of joy in the dirty business of cleaning house.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome reader comments about this post.