The Occasional Movie Review
So I’ve laid out the plan for the site this coming year–the categories I’ll have coming, things to talk about, stuff like that. But of course, I couldn’t give up on the movie review here. So enjoy more of these in 2013!
As a kid, Sunday nights at our house were the big TV night: after dinner, we’d watch 60 Minutes, then M*A*S*H on CBS, then flip over to PBS for Nature and then, when I got a little older and could stay up later, or in the summer when bedtime was pushed back a bit, Masterpiece Theatre. That’s how, in my formative years, I managed to watch Upstairs Downstairs, Brideshead Revisited, the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series in the ’80s, and, in 1979 or 1980, the Alec Guiness-led Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
At the time, I found the series intriguing, though hopelessly confusing. But I think I was more interested in Obi-Wan Kenobi chasing down some double-agent in MI-5 than I was in the actual story, which is very confusing. Though that, I think, is the point. I was so interested, I actually read the book. In junior high. I think I was just trying to show off.
Enter 2011’s theatrical remake of John LeCarre’s novel, coupled with 30 or so years of experience, knowledge, and the fact that this isn’t is three or four-episode epic, and the end result is that I’m still somewhat confused.
But let’s break this down for the review…First off, if ever you need to make a film in Britain, you simply need to call most of the people in this movie. Don’t bother caring what characters are involved, because most of them prove in this film that they can play just about anything if the script is good enough.
Gary Oldman, who is easily one of the best actors working today, is nearly unrecognizable–at least in terms of not resembling any other character I’ve ever seen him play. His voice doesn’t even sound like him, and he sounds old, retired, run down, and everything that he should sound like to portray George Smiley.
Toby Jones is his usual character–an affable but ultimately unlikable ass. Benedict Cumberbatch is solid as an important player in the film, without actually overshadowing the story or anyone else. Colin Firth is mousy and sneaky. And John Hurt–who I’ve adored forever–has taken so well to playing old paranoid men so well, I’m wondering if it’s just become part of his persona.
The story, just to summarize as best I can without either being confusing or giving anything away is as follows: In the height of the cold war, Smiley is a retired spy who is brought in by a government undersecretary to investigate reports of a mole in the British spy agency. John Hurt as Control (the head of the agency) was performing his own investigation when a mission he sent one of his trusted operatives on went bad, and the political fallout cost him and Smiley their jobs as two of the tops in the “Circus,” as it’s called.
Control had narrowed his suspects to five people, including Smiley, and Smiley needs to determine who, ultimately, is leaking secrets to the Soviet Union. Smiley must act outside of the Circus, using just two people he can trust–one inside operative (Cumberbatch), and one outside retired operative. He unravels the mystery and finds the mole, which is not where the film ends, because it needs to tie up the loose ends, all to a soundtrack of a French language performance of “Beyond the Sea.” Yep. That’ll keep you guessin’.
Actually, the film is really very good, if for no other reasons than it keeps a confusing story pretty interesting without making it too simple, and lets some excellent actors make their characters shine. However, it’s a spy story with practically no spy action–no car chases, mind you, but there are plenty of shootings, most of which happen during well-handled flashbacks. It’s a very cerebral film, and one of those where half of whats happening seems like throw-away information until you get in the last half hour of the movie, when things just fall together perfectly.
I don’t remember much of the TV series, or of the book–I fully intend to go back to them to see if either makes more sense than I remember–but I get the sense that the movie probably does the story justice, especially since LeCarre was a producer and had a cameo in the film.
So if you liked the TV show, enjoyed the book, and maybe can remember them, check out the film. And if you like your cerebral, twisting stories, definitely check it out. But if you want a car chase, don’t. Four out of Five Stars simply because it really was that well done on all fronts, not because it’s something I’ll go back to watch over and over.
See you tomorrow.