Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Nothing is What it Seems.
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Written by: Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, based on the book 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' by John le Carré.
Starring: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, David Dencik, Simon McBurney.
Running time: 127 min.
In my English class at the moment we're doing a film study on The Shawshank Redemption. As much as I love the movie, the analysing of all the shots, lighting, sound blah blah blah is driving me nuts (it is interesting, but seeing the opening scene seven times is not my idea of fun). As I sat down to watch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy around three hours after I left my English class, I still had the whispers about camera techniques and the like bouncing around my head. And while I was watching Tomas Alfredson's first English film, I couldn't help but notice that he turned everything that I had been told in my English class upside down. The thing with The Shawshank Redemption is that the symbolism is always right in your face, directing everyone's line of thought in the exact same direction. Tinker Tailor is nothing like that. This is the spy world, remember, so nothing is ever what it seems. Tomas Alfredson realises that, and makes it in the most subtle - yet detailed - way that he possibly could. This is a film that would be hard to teach at schools.
Admittedly, I'm not the biggest fan of spy movies, but this one was somewhat different. John le Carré's novel was called the 'novel that redefined the spy genre', which was only to be redefined with run and gun blockbusters. Tinker Tailor is one spy film that is not from 'our time': it embodies the bleak outlook of the Cold War. The film is set in the world of British Intelligence, starting with the head Control (John Hurt) resigning after an operation in Budapest goes wrong. This also forces George Smiley (Gary Oldman) into retirement, but he is recruited again when he is asked to investigate a claim made by Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) that there may be a mole at the very top of the British secret service. He has the task of putting all of the pieces together to find the mole, and also find the true intent of Operation Witchcraft (a source of Soviet intelligence).
This is a film that requires your utmost attention, but I don't know if it really demands it. My eyes were glued to the screen throughout the entire thing, trying to soak in every piece of information that I could. However, the information was given in such a way that everything was given the same urgency, which meant I was destined to miss things. Another watch would probably be good so I can iron everything out, but the slowness and the immense subtlety that goes on in this film will never fail to make me deviate away from it now and again. Also, the way the film jumps from place to place challenged me a little more than I wanted to be challenged. While, in the end, I could fit most of the pieces together, I thought the script aimed a little too highly and presumed a lot of it's audience - but hey, it did a good job of not falling into the 'mindless entertainment' category that most spy thrillers fall into.
I had my qualms about the screenplay, but whenever I fell out of sync with the movie I was reeled back in by the way it was made. Everything about it: the set design, the score by Alberto Iglesias, the editing, the cinematography, the direction...it was all perfectly done. Tomas Alfredson is a master of creating atmosphere, which I first saw in the icy vampire horror Let the Right One In and now with his work in this film. There is little colour in this film, with even a scene at party being muted just to show how murky the world is for these characters. Alfredson chops and changes between long shots and close ups, but never lets the camera invade the character's space. You feel like a fly on the wall, sucking in details yet feeling ever so distant from the characters and everything that's happening. That's why it is so hard to be sure of who is who, because Alfredson never lets you get into the bubble that the character's exist in. Yet, you feel a part of their world, drawn into the greyness and the golden enclosure of the room where the 'Circus' have their meetings. Alfredson gets everything right. It might not be right for me to say this but I truly believe that he is one of the best directors around at the moment.
It goes without saying, though, that the entire cast is fantastic. Without seeing the film you could come to that conclusion. Gary Oldman headlines it, with his first ever Oscar nominated performance, playing George Smiley with subtlety and detail. His performance isn't one that smacks you in the face; it is one that silently overpowers you, with Oldman being a commanding presence on screen even though he does and says very little. While he was the only one to get an Oscar nomination, I don't think anyone should dismiss the brilliant ensemble. Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones, the amazingly underrated Ciaran Hinds and John Hurt are all brilliant in their roles, filling them all with that 'you're never what you seem' spy persona that makes the film even more tricky to connect with. Colin Firth gives a stand out performance, taking the backseat after two wonderful showcases in A Single Man and The King's Speech, playing who is perhaps the happiest person in this movie. However, the true star of this film was the ever brilliant Mark Strong, who takes his role as Jim Prideaux and brings a certain intensity, coldness and surprising heart to the role. It isn't anything out of the ordinary for Mr. Strong, though: no matter what film he's in, he instantly becomes the stand out. I also have to mention my new favourite Christian McKay, who plays a tiny role in this film, but still manages to light up the screen with his immense talent. I will not stop going on about him until everyone knows who he is.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy may not be a film that packs a huge punch, but it will be whirling around my head for days to come. I have a feeling that I'll appreciate it more on a second viewing. And that second viewing will be 95% because of the way this film is made. That's what you call stellar movie making.
What I got: