Wednesday, November 09, 2005

THE MACKINTOSH MAN (1973) - John Huston

The MacKintosh Man is not your father’s spy movie…but it may be your grandfather’s. It’s got a deliberately slow and steady pace which will verge on geriatric to those raised on the pedal-to-the-medal kinetics of the Jason Bourne franchise or, dare I say, XXX. You get the feeling Paul Newman and John Huston really wanted to take an Irish countryside vacation and just so happened to make a movie in between Guinness pints.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s one of the more simple, low-tech spy thrillers I’ve seen, but it definitely has its charms (or Lucky Charms given the locale). Paul Newman plays Joseph Rearden, a man hired to rob a postal carrier delivering several million dollars of diamonds until he’s fingered for the crime and imprisoned in a British penitentiary. It’s a clever misdirect, though you never totally buy that Newman would be cast as someone that bad at his job. So you’re waiting for the big reveal that, yes, Newman is in fact a British intelligence officer who purposely got caught to carry out a spy operation.

But the operation is interesting once we get to it. It seems there’s a Russian-funded organization that specializes in daring extractions of imprisoned agents before ferreting them back to the homeland. Newman, incognito, pays his way into the program so he can get close to his mark, a recently captured Russian agent who’s the next to go. But once the two men are spirited away to a safe haven in the Irish countryside, complications arise and Newman’s cover is blown by a mysterious high-ranking political officer.

Well, not that mysterious, given that he’s the only one we’ve met by this point in the movie. To be honest, in terms of this week’s theme MacKintosh Man is both low on the politics and the intrigue. But there are rewards. A foot chase through the marshy green Irish countryside in which Newman kills a dog by drowning. Newman asking a sexy female assistant of the organization for a “poke” ala James Bond, but getting the cold shoulder. And Newman just being Newman, which is good enough for me.

The pacing in this movie may require a Geritol chaser, but Newman and Huston make it feel REAL. If you were a middle-aged workaday spy pushing over 40 years in the game, it would probably be something like this…a tired James Bond, instead of a tired franchise.

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