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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Honorary Consul (1983)
(Original Uncut Version)


Starring: Michael Caine, Richard Gere, Bob Hoskins, Elpidia Carrillo, Joaquim de Almeida and A Martinez
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
RRP: £9.99


Certificate: 18
Release Date: 08 April 2019

From the book by Graham Greene comes a story of two men who boast they have no values but find in the end they do. This is familiar territory for Greene and fans of his particular take on nihilism turned inside out to reveal an epiphany of higher motive. Set in Argentina, (but most certainly not shot there) the film veritably perspires in every scene, day and night, relentlessly sweating its characters towards unavoidable truth.

Gere is Dr Edwardo Plarr, who has come to find his father, missing for a year. His titular contact is the Honorary Consul, Charley Fortnum, introduced drunk on his arse, empty of authority and self worth. Caine at his magnificent feckless best. Lurking always close by is Bob Hoskins as the military Colonel Perez, always on the search for revolutionaries. Gere declares politics have no interest for him, he just wants to find his father. Caine would help but is impotent in multiple ways. Gere’s Dr Plarr becomes attracted, then smitten with a young prostitute (Elpida Carrilo) who on a sudden whim marries Fortnum. Fortnum, drunk and ineffectual, is easy for the lovers to sidestep. But there is still the matter of Plarr’s missing father, the revolutionaries and the military. Each member of the love triangle will find standards they didn’t know they had.

The music track by Paul McCartney and John Williams is engaging and simultaneously ominous. It proffers a societal native feel but ratchets tension. It is one of the most serviceable McCartney film scores this viewer has experienced, not being a big fan of Live and Let Die.

Cinematography by Phil Meheux opens the f-stop wide and seems to revel in the grain that is more apparent in this excellent restoration. The effect is most satisfying. It’s movies like this that no doubt won Meheux the job of capturing a neo-realist James Bond in Casino Royale (2006) especially in its tropical set opening industrial district chase sequence. In Honorary Consul he takes us through glare-diffused landscapes, dank night streets, comparatively comfortable indoor sets, giving all an oppressive weight of sub-equatorial atmosphere, gritty, sweaty, an inescapable ubiquity. This is a distinctive decision because the film was shot in Vera Cruz Mexico, Mexico City and Shepperton Studios in Middlesex. Meheux and director John McKenzie had an emotional valence in mind and knew how to get it.

The picture was snubbed in America, given another title and executed in much the same way the military police dispense their rule of law, when they no longer care to ply torture. Very early it’s clear why this movie could not be shot within a thousand miles of Argentina. One wonders today at Leftist squirrels chirping respect for Eva Peron. Oh, the irony and the stupidity.

Gere’s wonderfully steamy love scenes with Carrilo were no doubt trimmed as too ‘European’ for American tight pants sensibilities. Carrilo will be familiar as the only woman in the original Predator (1990) but her mystique, and it is instantly palpable, was already apparent to international audiences in Tony Richardson’s lost classic The Border in 1982. She is a powerful presence and establishes herself in the first instance of appearing.

It’s not one of Caine’s greatest roles (better than Jaws: the Revenge (1987) or his Steven Seagal outing) – or Gere’s (American Gigolo (1980)) but they both serve allegiance in worthy fashion to the real master here, Graham Greene. Gere provokes the narrative. Without his determination to discover the fate of his father there would be no propulsion or cuckolding. Caine is what the story analyst Lajos Egri would call the pivotal character, the character who is changed by observing it all. Just as Nick Carraway observes Gatsby and is never the same, so does Caine perceive Gere, not realizing until the climax how affected, involved and transformed he is as well. This is the triumph of Greene.

In the finale, Gere’s character, who declares he cares for nothing, strides into the fusillade to declare that nothing must still make room for affirmation. Is this ending for Dr Plarr pyrrhic? Is Gere competing to be the pivotal character? It’s certainly not profound enough for Bob Hoskins’ military mindset and clearly goes over his low fascist forehead. But the genius of Graham Greene infects our thought with wonderment. Plarr discovers intimately and ultimately the fate of his father and Charley Fortnum, the Honorary Consul, is forever altered by his participatory witnessing. And so are we. It’s Graham Greene after all.


John Huff

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