Handsomely mounted, epic in scope, and featuring an outstanding cast, TNT's The Company
might restore some much-needed luster to the image of the Central Intelligence Agency (then again, perhaps not). Based on Robert Littell's popular historical novel of the same name, the show commingles real and invented characters as it traces the CIA's role in several major events, from the earliest days of the Cold War through the collapse of the Soviet Union, with particular attention given to the division of Berlin into East and West in the 1950s, the anti-Communist uprising in mid-'50s Hungary, and the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation in the early '60s.
The first of the miniseries' three parts introduces us to Yale graduates Jack McAuliffe (Chris O'Donnell), Leo Kritzky (Alessandro Nivola), and Yevgeny Tsipin (Rory Cochrane); the first two are recruited by the CIA, but the Russian-born Tsipin sides with the KGB. The initial focus is on the CIA's efforts to find a Soviet mole who's been interfering with the agency's work and putting many American lives at risk. Working with mentor Harvey "The Sorcerer" Torriti (Alfred Molina), who calls him "Sport" and delights in pointing out that such matters are nothing less than a life-and-death struggle between good and evil and right and wrong, McAuliffe skulks around Berlin, where his principal informant and soon-to-be love interest is a lovely young ballerina (Alexandra Maria Lara) with a few secrets of her own. Meanwhile, back in Washington, the colorfully-named CIA counter-intelligence expert James Jesus Angleton (a real guy portrayed with low-key intensity by Michael Keaton) slowly realizes that the mole in question is one of his old pals. And it doesn't stop there. Turns out there's another double agent (codename "Sasha") working for the Reds; this one's deeply embedded in the CIA, and Angleton, a chain-smoking obsessive whose behavior becomes increasingly cold and peculiar, devotes years (and most of the series' third installment) to outing him. The process by which he does just that, culminating in some fairly excruciating interrogation scenes, provides The Company's best moments--especially because we don't know until the very end whether Angleton has fingered the actual Sasha or not.
Viewers unfamiliar with the CIA's history and methods arent likely to be very encouraged by what's depicted here--especially in the second part, in which the agency's misadventures in Hungary and Cuba reveal it (as well as the U.S. government overall) to be not merely ineffective but disastrously inept, as well as shockingly callous and hypocritical when it comes to lending material support to the causes it claims to espouse. Still, the series does a good job with many of the elements common to such fare (Robert De Niro's 2006 film The Good Shepherd
covers some of the same ground). Codes are written and deciphered. Secrets are kept
and revealed. Shots are fired, and some of them connect. People die, good and bad alike. And even if some of the scenes are a bit overheated and melodramatic, all in all, The Company
(which was written by Ken Nolan, directed by Mikael Salomon, and produced by John Calley and Ridley and Tony Scott) is smart and entertaining. And some of it's even true. --Sam Graham