To simply say that Black Hawk Down screenwriter Ken Nolan had his work cut out for him is an understatement. Faced with the mother-load assignment of adapting Robert Littell’s almost 900 page historical novel that spans forty years of CIA involvement in global affairs, most writers would have opted for an excuse but Nolan rose to the challenge and penned a truly worthy and engrossing script. Although this miniseries is six hours long, it still feels more brisk and involving than director Robert De Niro’s feature The Good Shepherd which was just half the length. Like Shepherd, we begin with the tale of three Yale graduates (including at least one who’s a member of the infamous Skull and Bones fraternity) who take very different paths after graduation when one is recruited into following in his father’s footsteps in serving Mother Russia as a KGB operative and two join the CIA to throw their hat into the ring of the Cold War battle in the 1950’s. Produced by Ridley and Tony Scott for TNT, this beautifully photographed and painstakingly detailed cable film released recently on DVD benefits from the deft direction of Danish helmer Mikael Salomon whose impressive background as a cinematographer on Backdraft and Far and Away (just to name two) no doubt aided in the creation of The Company which has more in common with first-run feature films than most other television works.
Chris O’Donnell heads up an all-star cast as Jack McCauliffe, an idealistic agent whose perceptions and attitudes get clouded during his heartbreaking and violent forays in Berlin, Budapest during the revolution, and the Bay of Pigs invasion into Cuba, up through Vietnam and the demise of the Soviet Union. Although his career was launched with roles in Scent of a Woman and Circle of Friends, O’Donnell has never had quite a heroic and challenging role (aside from of course the less rewarding task of playing Batman’s Robin) but his character’s earnest boy-scout-like quintessential good guy persona is consistently upstaged by the flashier roles inhabited by Alfred Molina as his weary, hard-drinking boss in Berlin and Michael Keaton as the creepily brilliant CIA investigator James Angleton who only seems to warm up to the orchids he tends. Rounding out the cast is Alessandro Nivola and Rory Cochrane as O’Donnell’s old Yale chums with Nivola taking on the role of a power hungry CIA climber and the impressive Cochrane as Yevgeny Tsipin who, despite his affection for America is guilted into spying and also set-up by his family’s Russian background. It’s ultimately Cochrane— an exciting, subtle and emotionally convincing actor who most commands viewer’s attention with his quiet turn and despite the action-packed and mystery filled plot points monopolized by the tense CIA sequences, we still find ourselves wondering about Yevgeny even when he’s not onscreen and trying to guess the identity of the CIA mole throughout the entire picture. A stunner of a television miniseries and well worth tracking down for not only the Tom Clancy readers and Alias viewers in your family but anyone interested in getting hooked by the ever-evolving and intriguing situations that help illuminate some historical events of the past. Now if only the novel wasn’t roughly 900 pages, I would’ve checked that one out as well.