by ELEANOR MORROW
The Night Manager
creator Susanne Bier
Tom Hiddleston’s frosted tips have taken on a life of their own. As a brunette, Hiddleston was a swerving force of flowing locks, always looking down on you through his nightmarish blue eyes, with an expression that seemed to say, “I know you are surprised that I am also a person as you are.” Yet there was always something alien about the man, and frosting those tips has brought that inimical quality into the light.
Hiddleston’s character in The Night Manager is a former military man who works at a hotel in Cairo for some reason. He starts to take an interest in the mistress of a powerful Arab man and decides to save her from her wicked life, using his frosted tips alone. She is all beaten up from her boyfriend, and looks like she has just been in a car crash, but he feels like this is the optimal time to start a romantic relationship with her.
The next time he sees her, her little poodle is covered in her blood. If you think this is a somewhat heavy-handed allegory for western imperialism, you have not read very much John le Carré. This is actually him being subtle.
I recently watched David Gordon Green’s very funny, somewhat racist version of a true story, Our Brand Is Crisis. The movie was never attempts to be particularly complex in the style of The Night Manager, and it ends when Sandra Bullock’s heartless political consultant suddenly grows a conscience because she was furious the man she was working for was trying to do the best for his country.
Our Brand Is Crisis is a rollicking and funny portrait of what might ostensibly be a very dull election for the president of Bolivia. Bullock’s interactions with poor young men are a novelty, turning the plot into an actual referendum on the goodness of people and what it means. Our Brand Is Crisis takes something completely simple and problematizes it into something deeper. The Night Manager does the exact opposite.
The same sort of rigorous moral certainty pretends to pulsate through The Night Manager, but we can sense the bullshit. It is naivete, pure and simple; the idea that international relations, and the managing of various dictatorial regimes would be pathetically facile if only the people on the ground would go after the real bad guys. In The Night Manager, that bad guy is a British arms dealer who also runs a multinational corporation, Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie).
This cartoonish Bond villain had the temerity to sell weapons to someone! Tom Hiddleston’s frosted tips did not really seem to understand that governments manage this monstrous feat almost every single day. When he finds a written list of weapons Roper plans to sell, he immediately calls British intelligence to complain. Four years after he gets a woman of color killed, he is night managing a resort in the mountains when Roper shows up with an entourage.
The Cairo parts of The Night Manager are transparently not filmed anywhere near the city, but up in the mountains we get a fantastic sense of place. In the evening, with the cold restraining the flagging movement of those blondish tips, Mr. Hiddleston starts to grow active in his den, like a nocturnal rodent. He is not very handsome in this guise, or very strong, or very smart. But he is busy.
Laurie is a great performer, but The Night Manager accentuates too many of his weaknesses. He is not naturally intimidating, fearsome or menacing. His friendliness seems to complete explode his cruelty. Sure, he is capable of awful things but combined with a braying smile, we sense he must be a far more complicated man than Tom’s tips give him credit for.
Director Susanne Bier has Laurie give elaborate speeches about the virtues of capitalism which come across completely ridiculous. The rest of the time is spent making his subordinates dance with his girlfriend (Elizabeth Debicki, looking quite sussed). Intelligence professionals back in Mother Britain meet for hours to think of how they are going to shut down this maniac. I don’t know, maybe they could just arrest him? Christ.
Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.
“Steel & Stone” – Caleb Caudle (mp3)