The Looking Glass War 1970 ***

Something of a curiosity in the John le Carre stakes, this 1970 thriller gets quite a few elements right, notably the personnel at The Circus; George Smiley is dropped from the original book, but Anthony Hopkins, Sir Ralph Richardson and Paul Rogers all fit the bill as the crumpled espionage handlers with the power and life and death in their hands. The film’s centre is Leiser (Christopher Jones) a Polish defector who becaomes a pawn in international espionage games when he’s recruited to spy on East German missile sites. The first half of the film does well to suggest how and why Leiser accepts the offer, but things get a little simplistic once the mission begins, and a final bookend doesn’t quite work. Hopkins seems to have been none too impressed by Jones and his James Dean mannerisms, but it kind of works for the film that Leiser is so much of a fish out of water. The Looking Glass War feels like a compromised efffort, but with a script by le Carre himself, it springs to life whenever Hopkins and Richardson are on screeen, and Frank Pierson, director of the 1976 A Star Is Born, creates some striking compositions.

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Rollerball 1975 ****

Unknown

Rollerball was intended as a chiding rebuke to violence is sport, but ends up being a celebration of brutality, and that’s no bad thing in Norman Jewison’s 1975 sci-fi thriller. James Caan is an ideal Jonathan E, a competitor in the sport of Rollerball, a mixture of motorcycling, basketball, wrestling, street-hockey and sudden death that’s used to appease the masses in a dystopian future. Adapted from the late William E Harrison’s novella, Rollerball is pretty astute away from the game, with a futuristic vision of rich, selfish class who destroy their environment for fun, incinerating trees and rather careless with literature. For a film that is purporting to criticize violence, the games scenes are undeniably thrilling, making the woodland scuffles of The Hunger Games look somewhat tame in comparison. And Caan rises to the challenge of making Jonathan E worth rooting for, an everyman who fights on as life gets tougher with each passing game.