9/31: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
It has all the tools for a great movie: a good old-fashioned '70s-Cold-War-paranoia plot; a roster of fantastic actors and Hey, It's That Guys, including Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, John Hurt, and the dude who plays Capone in Boardwalk Empire, Stephen Graham, sporting a delightful (and also fugly) 'fro; and by turns murky and LSD-ish lighting and cinematography that make it fascinating to look at. The Christmas-party flashbacks in particular capture that nightmare feeling of being a bit too drunk at a party you had no choice but to attend, and the subplots you're a bit too muzzy to follow.
It's not as fascinating to watch, alas. It took me until nearly the end to figure out why the movie felt so sluggish, and of the two issues, one of them is mine, to wit: I expected to love it. I popped it in the player all, "Sweet, Parallax View 2011, let's do this." Raised expectations claim another victim, I guess.
The other issue is that, bottom line, the story is quite simple, but the script is constantly contriving to make it more complicated and opaque than it is. There's a mole in the upper echelons of British intelligence; it's one of four or five people; the spies all spy on each other; George Smiley (Gary Oldman, styled like the late great JT Walsh) is pulled out of forced retirement to re-spy on the spies. I mean, it's…a spy story. Build as many triple- and quadruple-crosses into it as you like; they're still just crosses, and not that complicated.
That may proceed from the source material; I read some Le Carré years and years ago, but don't remember it, really, and in general the lengthy obfuscation I mentioned before is typical for that genre and therefore not usually my thing. The film does do a solid job of showing us those crosses and backstabs where it can, instead of telling us about them in VO exposition dumps. Well, mostly; much of the ending is a "let's wrap this up neatly for the radio audience" speech, but there's also a sequence soundtracked by a peppy mod version of "La Mer" that's a lot of fun.
And the acting is phenomenal. Everyone's at least very good, but I got a charge out of two guys especially. I've noted elsewhere that I keep seeing Mark Strong in things where he fails to register, and I'm gratified to see what he can really do at last. He's amazing in a quiet and controlled but rich performance here. And Benedict Cumberbatch! Give him all the awards for everything, today. Golden Globe, Good Housekeeping seal, Best in Show, whatever you got. He is a treasure. The Guillam role is a tough one, too; he's called on to do a lot of listening or looking scared, but he's got a nuance for each instance. The shot through the window of him coming home…it's a lot of relevant information, so I won't ruin it, but you'll know it. Dang, that guy is good. I would rush right over to Netflix and watch him in Sherlock Holmes but I have some stupid movie project to do or something? Oh, and also, maybe it's the hair, but Cumberbatch really looks like Dennis Quaid here. Make room, roster of famous boyfriends!
(Honorable mention to Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr, disgorging a huge amount of backstory from under one of the less credible wigs in contemporary cinema. He does an elegant job, and is still somehow kind of a fox. Tough job done well.)
So, should you see TTSS? I don't think it's a bad call, actually. I passed some "baaahhhhh-rrrring" comments about it on Twitter, but now that I've figured out what niggled me about it, I'd give it a stronger endorsement — and I didn't see it in the theater, but I'm betting it plays better and more suspensefully that way. It's got slow bits, for sure, but they're an opportunity to watch the pros do their thing, so if you're into that (or into Benedict Cumberbatch) (co-signed), you'll find something to like. Warning, however: that thing may not be Colin Firth. He looks like hell, and the portrayal is pretty flabby. It's the defending champ's prerogative to coast, and…that's what he's doing. Your call.
No idea what the movie's awards chances look like. I would have zero quibble with noms for acting and cinematography/set design, though.
Tags: 31 Days 31 Films Benedict Cumberbatch Boardwalk Empire Ciaran Hinds Colin Firth Dennis Quaid famous boyfriends Gary Oldman Hey It's That Guy! John Hurt John Le Carre JT Walsh Mark Strong movies Oscars 2012 Death Race Stephen Graham the Cold Bore Tom Hardy