Movie Review: ‘Farewell’

With Russian spies making headlines, it’s not a bad time to hop into the way-back machine and revisit a slice of Cold War espionage with the French import “Farewell.” The fictionalized account of an extraordinary episode of espionage that helped cripple the Soviet Union, “Farewell” offers intrigue, simmering tension and Fred Ward doing a goofy impersonation of Ronald Reagan.

OK, so that last part isn’t so hot. But for the majority of its leisurely running time, Christian Caron’s twisty thriller sports a smart sophistication along with an amazing story that’s all the more remarkable for its relative anonymity in history books.

“Farewell” follows the relationship between two men — disillusioned KGB agent Sergei Grigoriev ( Emir Kusturica) and Pierre (Guillaume Canet), a low-level French engineer based in Moscow. It’s 1981, and Grigoriev (based on KGB spy Vladimir Vetrov) wants his teenage son to have a better life, so he decides to leak a passel of secrets to the French, using Pierre as his conduit. Family man Pierre doesn’t want to be a spy but quickly learns that he’s pretty good at the deception inherent in the enterprise.

“Farewell” review: A review of the movie “Farewell” in Friday’s Calendar section misspelled the last name of director Christian Carion as Caron.


Caron expands the story to provide a bit of political context, but the appearances of Ward’s Reagan and French President Francois Mitterrand (Philippe Magnan) and Willem Dafoe as the head of the CIA needlessly distracts from the bond at the heart of the film. Played by well-known directors Canet and Kusturica, the leads give “Farewell” a humanity that also speaks to the high stakes at hand. They’re fantastic.

“Farewell.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. At select theaters.