Adapted from a John le Carré novel of the same name, The Night Manager has finished its six-episode run in the United Kingdom, but the miniseries thriller has only just begun its stay on AMC’s Tuesday night lineup; a stay that will, if this premiere episode is any indication, be far too short.
The Night Manager stars Tom Hiddleston (who will forever and always be Marvel’s Loki) as Jonathan Pine. Pine is the… uh… night manager of The Nefertiti Hotel in Cairo, Egypt. Well, that’s his title, but who he is goes far deeper than any profession. Hiddleston plays Pine as the proverbial international man of intrigue from the moment we see him weave his way through the revolution happening in the streets outside his hotel; however, although this role should rightly inflame anyone’s passion who carries any level of desire for Tom Hiddleston to suit up as James Bond (he would be exceptional, by the way), his similarities to that particular “man of mystery” run about as shallow as the Bond character’s own stoic personality. No, Jonathan Pine is immediately infused–through a taut story, as much as Hiddleston’s superb acting–with the broiling sense of purpose usually reserved for forgotten tea kettles. With every second Jonathan Pine appears on-screen, the rubber band that is his glaring need to act pulls ever tighter.
Enter Richard Roper, played here by the inimitable Hugh Laurie. If Jonathan Pine be the over-tuned strings on a worn-down guitar, Richard Roper is the hand here to strum Pine into motion. What’s terrific about Roper, at least the truncated bits seen of him in this premiere episode, is how even-keeled Laurie plays the “Worst Man in the World”. As that strumming hand, Laurie plays Roper with an ominous rhythm.
You see, Richard Roper is an arms dealer. Pine’s employment at The Nefertiti Hotel happens to occur during the Arab Spring, a contemporary substitute added to le Carré’s novel, which was published in 1993–long before the Arab Spring. This minor modernization of the plot goes a long way to solidify Roper as someone worthy of the title “Worst Man in the World” in the eyes of today’s audience, when the moment comes that we learn his role in helping to quell the revolution. Hugh Laurie plays Roper as the affable Tony Stark, if Stark had never grown that pesky conscience that makes him all “heroic”. (fittingly placing Loki in the role of hero)
The biggest star of this premiere, however, is actually that plot–to which I am sure I have not done justice. Trust me; it’s good and better told than I’ve laid out here. As much as Hiddleton’s performance layers a pathos over the Bondian hotel manager, this premiere deftly creates an immediate world of espionage and corruption you cannot wait for Pine to lose himself in. He is a man we’re both shown and told has many selves, and they are all looking for somewhere to go and something to do.
The final piece of this well-oiled puzzle–which, you should never oil puzzles, but I digress–is Susanne Bier. She not only directed the premiere, but she also directed each of the six episodes. The only other thing from her filmography I’ve seen is Things We Lost in the Fire, a mostly forgettable movie starring Halle Berry and Benicio del Toro. Frankly, her directing was the only thing I felt was all that good in that movie. Since I’ve only seen that and this one episode of The Night Manager, I can’t say I’m super-familiar with her style. Here, though, she does seem to have taken a slightly less-noticeable approach; her camera isn’t as present in the scene as it had been in Things We Lost in the Fire. Subtle moments do pop out, though, and I feel those moments allow the auteur in her to show in a very nice way. One example that sticks out takes place as Jonathan Pine speaks with Sophie Alekan (Aure Atika) on the phone; Bier’s camera captures the emotion present in what is said in that conversation and what is left unsaid, by alternately focusing on various sections of their faces. It’s a director’s moment sewn nicely into the quilt of what is ultimately a writer’s series. I look forward to seeing where she’s able to squeeze these moments into the remaining five episodes.
Speaking of looking forward, I hope you will join me next week, and every week thereafter, until we’ve concluded our review of what is already an outstanding television series after just a single episode.
The Night Manager - Episode 1
Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie are put at odds within the excellent premiere episode of what promises to be a thrilling espionage miniseries.