The spy thriller has taken a beating since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Back in the days of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was much easier to understand. It was the bad guy, the United States was the good guy.
Now, however, bad guys have become harder to define. A return to the old ways would make things a lot easier.
That is the key to Frederick Forsyth's 1996 thriller Icon, which has been turned into a movie - suspenseful in its own right - starring Patrick Swayze. It makes its debut at 7 p.m. Monday on the Hallmark Channel.
In Icon, Forsyth, whose best-known works are perhaps Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File, explores some of the effects of the Soviet Union's transformation in the 1990s from provinces ruled by a central government to a grouping of republics that became prime fodder for organized crime and ruthless businessmen. He considers the dichotomy in the Soviet mindset: the desire for modern democracy vs. the desire for the stability of the days under Communist dictators.
Setting the scene for the action, the movie starts in 1985, when a CIA operative posing as a Soviet military officer is forced to watch as one of his agents is ruthlessly murdered.
Cut to the present.
It's a pleasant day in Moscow. The sidewalk cafes are filled. A women in jeans and a tight sweater checks her makeup in the mirror of a parked delivery van. A security guard shoos her away.
He may have saved her life.
The van erupts in a monstrous explosion, and smoke, blood, and twisted metal fill the streets. As passersby rush to help the victims, one man gets out of his car and casually strolls through the front doors of Komarov Industries, where he goes straight to a vault, blows open the lock, and steals a vial of fluid.
"Terrorists," presidential candidate Igor Komarov rages. It is his business that has been targeted. He vows to hunt down the perpetrators and shore up security in his beleaguered country.
In the British embassy, a long-time Russia watcher, Sir Nigel Irvine, isn't so sure of the terrorist theory. He thinks the explosion was a diversion. He wonders if something more sinister is going on, and he decides to find out.
But he can't do it with the approval of the British or the American governments, which are still trying to figure out how to deal with the new Russia. So he decides to do it covertly, and he approaches the one man perfect for the job: Jason Monk.
Monk is the CIA operative who watched helplessly in 1985. Disillusioned by the CIA's inability to protect its people, Monk quit the agency and lives on a sailboat in Spain. He has little interest in Sir Nigel's suspicions, even less in returning to a life he once embraced.
But Sir Nigel has two trump cards. One is named Komarov, the other Helena.
The presidential candidate, it turns out, is the former Soviet intelligence officer responsible for murdering Monk's agents. If anyone has a secret agenda, it will be him.
Helena is Monk's daughter. When the CIA pulled Monk out of Moscow, his Russian wife, Natasha, who had no idea he was an American spy, refused to go and refused to let him take Helena, then 4. Monk has not seen her for 15 years. He doesn't even know if she remembers him.
Monk arrives in Moscow during the final weeks of the campaign between the U.S.-backed progressive, Komarov, and General Nikolayev, who represents the old ways.
But Monk needs help, and he soon targets Sonia Astrova, the officer heading the investigation of the explosion.
Astrova, it turns out, has her own suspicions about the blast. Why, she wonders, would a crime that has become all-too-ordinary over the last decade pique the interest of Anatoly Grishin, the feared head of the Federal Security Service. And why would she be ordered to report directly to him the minute she finds anything?
Working together, Monk and Astrova discover Komarov's secret plans for Russia: a return to dictatorship, military expansionism, forced labor camps, and ethnic cleansing.
Swayze is enjoyable and mostly credible as Monk, although it's sometimes hard to tell whether his character is being stoic or wooden.
Annika Peterson as Astrova, however, is a wonder. She is beautifully luminous in a down-to-earth sort of way and her character exudes intelligence. Her mere presence saves many a scene, especially since it's obvious that writers Adam Armus and Kay Foster had to work hard to condense Forsyth's work.
Supporting Swayze and Peterson is a cast with some sturdy acting credentials but little fame, which makes their characters that much more believable. These include Patrick Bergin (Patriot Games) as Komarov, Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire) as Grishin, Joss Acklin (The Hunt for Red October) as General Nikolayev, and Michael York (Austin Powers) as Sir Nigel.
Filmed in Moscow and Bulgaria, Icon has an authentic feel to it. Despite the shortcuts to Forsyth's original work, the Hallmark production is indeed a thriller, mostly because it's all too easy to believe that such events could indeed happen.
Contact Nanciann Cherry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6130.