Roush Review: Star Power Fuels the Thrilling Night Manager; Containment Merely Deadly

Matt Roush
The Night Manager, Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie
Mitch Jenkins/AMC

Fancying himself a modern-day emperor, with weapons of mass destruction his currency of power, illicit arms merchant Richard Roper (a commanding, chilling Hugh Laurie) looks over a pyrotechnic hell on Earth he has orchestrated for a Middle Eastern client and dryly quips, "Nothing quite as pretty as napalm at night."

Apocalypse nigh.

Unless he can be stopped—and that's where the intricate, ingeniously plotted and eternally relevant spy games of master novelist John le Carré kick in. Produced by his sons Simon and Stephen Cornwell, adapted and updated by David Farr from le Carré's acclaimed 1993 novel, The Night Manager is a thrillingly suspenseful Mission: Impossible playing on a grand international canvas from Cairo to Istanbul, with lavish detours in Switzerland and Spain.

The locations are spectacular, but the most unforgettable image in this sprawling, gripping six-part miniseries may be the intimate spectacle of Laurie intensely locking eyes with another sensational leading man, Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Marvel movies), two charismatic poker faces in a high-stakes stare-off.

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Hiddleston is steely yet sensitive as Jonathan Pine, who first discovers the depths of Roper's treachery while working as the night manager of a swank Egyptian hotel in a nearly episode-long prologue. A former British soldier who covets his anonymity, Pine is (like Rick in Casablanca) reluctantly drawn into perilous intrigue by a sense of honor and duty—and it doesn't hurt that there's usually a lovely woman enmeshed in the danger and more than willing to take this handsome hero to bed and/or spill deadly secrets.

One such femme fatale describes Roper as "the worst man in the world," because "he sells destruction, pain and death, and he laughs." Laurie is magnificent as this diabolically charming villain, with Hiddleston every bit his enigmatic match when Pine is recruited to infiltrate Roper's criminal operation, exposing corruption in the British intelligence community along the way. Pine's handler, the ruthlessly headstrong and marvelously frumpy Angela Burr (Broadchurch's brash scene-stealer Olivia Colman), won't let pregnancy dim her zeal to take down this nemesis, even as she clashes with sketchy MI6 superiors.

"You are going to put on the performance of your life," Angela assures Pine as he weathers relentless scrutiny from Roper and his poisonously witty associate, Major Corkoran (droll Tom Hallander). The deception gets deadlier the deeper it goes, and that's just how we like it from the edge of our seats.

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AA-CHOO! It's enough to make you sick. Not the toxic viral outbreak that puts a large section of Atlanta into quarantined lockdown, but the lost opportunity squandered by The CW's Containment to mine powerful human drama amid a fearsome health crisis.

Plagued by mediocrity in the writing and stubbornly dull acting, this unpleasant misfire of a "limited series"—is it ever—feels more like slow death as it spins out subplots from Disaster Movie 101. At times you'd think the virus—initially and tastelessly attributed to a Syrian refugee, though the truth is more complicated—exists only to make couples and families separated by the electrified cordon appreciate each other more. I still haven't forgiven the top government hack (Farscape's dour Claudia Black) for promising early on, "This will be over before it begins."

We wish. The only real danger Containment presents is the potential for perishing from boredom.

The Night Manager premieres Tuesday, April 19, 10/9c, AMC

Containment premieres Tuesday, April 19, 9/8c, on The CW