There is a scene in Page Eight that is a stellar as any you’ll see all year in any film. The fact that it takes place in a board room, and the crackling tension circles around a sentence on a piece of paper makes it all the more awesome. Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon, and Judy Davis are MI5 agents (think of it as the CIA of the UK) who are facing off with the government’s Home Secretary (think Hillary Clinton) played by Saskia Reeves. This single sentence, on page eight of a top secret report based on information from an anonymous source, is shocking and controversial enough to take down the Prime Minister if revealed. And the whole scene is played so calculating, and sooooo controlled on both sides, that it is delicious to watch.
Too bad the rest of Page Eight doesn’t live up to that scene.
You really and truly can’t get any better than this cast, which also includes Rachel Wiesz as a mysterious and tense across-the-hall neighbor of Bill Nighy, who has her own agenda, despite not being involved in the central scandal behind the secret report. Thrown in Ralph Fiennes, who gets his own scenery-chewing moment as the Prime Minister, and Ewan Bremner, Alice Krige, and Felicity Jones as peripheral characters, and you have a filmmaker’s dream casting.
But the problem is the story. Page Eight, despite taking place in and around the MI5 office in London, is played less like a political thriller (which it is), and more like a drama. This would be fine, except for the fact that it doesn’t work very well as a drama. The characters speak in a flat Mamet-style with blunt periods at the end of sentences. The moments where there should be emotion are either played awkwardly (like establishing an emotional connection between Weisz and Nighy’s characters) or are ignored (like when a character suffers from a great personal loss). The politics actually confused me at first, and it took me a few scenes to realize that Nighy, Gambon, and Davis were working at an intelligence agency. Shoot, for the first 15 minutes, I thought they were working at a newspaper!
That said, how could I not stick with a film that features Bill Nighy and Rachel Weisz on the cover? I was hoping that this would be a complex political thriller along the lines of the excellent State of Play. Instead, it ended up being more of a run-of-the-mill forgettable drama.