Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Review: The Sleepers

Release date: November 17, 2019 (U.S. Release May 18, 2020)
Running time: 60 minute episodes (6 episodes)
Starring: Tatiana Pauhofová, Martin Mysicka, Jan Vlasák

The Sleepers is a six-part drama series from HBO Europe that follows a story from 1989 Czechoslovakia when the Soviet Empire was crumbling.  In the midst of the Velvet Revolution, which brought 40 years of Moscow’s dominance in the country to an end, an ordinary woman gets caught between the two worlds of State Security and the dissidents. She is gradually forced to uncover unexpected secrets kept by both in order to save herself and find out what happened to her husband.

As with all HBO series, the Sleepers has top notch production values.  1989 (and 1977 for some scenes) Europe is completely recreated for this series.  The towns, the cars, the dress, and the technology all look spot on and really transport you to this time.  The cast are likewise very well done.  Each character is convincing and seems to be playing multiple angles in this tense spy thriller.  Although the episodes are mostly in a foreign language, the emotion and influences are perfectly conveyed from the characters and I did not find it distracting at all to follow along through subtitles.  

And this series is very much a thriller.  Everyone has an angle that they are playing and everyone is trying to discover the others' secrets.  However, this series doesn't try to overdramatize it; the spies and police go about their business in a matter of fact way without some of the hyperbole you would find in a Hollywood cold war movie.  And the thriller aspect is helped immensely by some amazing camera work that captures both the tension and the feel of observing someone surreptitiously.  The camera will zoom in on subjects as it is following them and moves freely.  It really helps to set the stage that this is going to be a film about observation and espionage.  And the music, although scant, really helps to emphasize the mood when it is used.  It is a nice touch to have some music come on screen and lets you know that something is going to happen or feeds the emotion already in the scene. 

However, the story in this series is very slow to develop, especially the first episode.  It started off interesting enough, but the follow up did not grab me like I expected it to.  But make sure to stick it out as the second episode really gets the story moving and some of the characters that we meet initially start to get larger roles.  This is a time and an area that does not get much attention on film, so make sure to stick it out and enjoy every tension-filled shot and this nuanced, engaging story.  

The Sleepers is a slow, deliberate espionage drama with stellar production values and a layered, nuanced story that will keep you guessing throughout. 

Watch it.

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