Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Master of Understatement

Having gone to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy last night, I have to give it a full five stars, and two thumbs up, and all the usual movie-rating jargon to emphasize how good something was. I'd love to have my own system for something like that. I'm sure, though, that it would just end up sounding like I'd botched the 12 Days of Christmas song and forgot that it was "10 lords a'leaping" or "8 maids a'milking". Anyway, if I did have a fun system, I would give it 10/10 lords a'leaping...or whatever sounds cooler than that.

In the book, le Carre's plot starts at a boys' school where a chubby little loner watches out of the window as a new teacher pulls up in his car and towing trailer. (I confess, I know this only because I've listened to the first chapter of the audiobook...I really need to finish it now I've seen the movie.) The movie, by contrast, starts with a clandestine, off-the-books mission to Budapest to suss out a Hungarian general who wants to defect. I have to say, I like that they save the school scene for later since it creates quite a bit more suspense with one of the characters.

The cast for this movie is ah-mazing! Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Mark Strong, and Benedict Cumberbatch make up the main action and the impressive backbone of talent in the picture. Though they're all brilliant actors generally (and John Hurt will always be Mr. Ollivander to me), here are the bits that stood out most to my mind:

  • The last time I saw Tom Hardy was as the devilishly sarcastic forger in Inception. He gets to play a character with so much more depth here in Tinker, Tailor and he does it all the justice it deserves. I won't give anything away, but Hardy plays a thuggish intelligence agent with a brilliantly-executed soft side. His one really emotional scene comes at the end of a flashback (with which the movie is replete) and doesn't feel in the least like a gratuitous attempt to humanize his character: it just fits brilliantly.
  • Mark Strong finally plays a character with more than two dimensions! Don't get me wrong, Guy Ritchie's mockney Victorian escapade with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law was a fun time, but I loved seeing that Mark Strong can be more than your stereotypical snaggle-toothed baddie. There's an impressive degree of fortitude and complexity in his character that really sees its understated apex at the film's end. Plus, it's just nice to see him in a roll where he's not the villain for a change.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch's character, Peter Guillam, is great. He, too, gets one particular scene of significance for character development and background and in the true fashion of this particular spy thriller, the whole thing is executed with an understated elegance that you can't help but appreciate. Well, unless you're incredibly thick and don't understand what just happened. If you've seen the movie, you know exactly what scene I'm talking about. If you haven't seen it, all I have to say is that it involves the need for Guillam to protect himself by making a difficult choice to "tidy things up".
So, in case you haven't noticed, the magic word for Tinker, Tailor is understatement. There's never a point in the movie where you're hit over the head with anything. I can see where that might get annoying: it's definitely a film that asks you to do a lot of thinking and close following of the nuances of the plot, but I think it rewards you sufficiently for the effort it asks. My only complaint? They could have made some of the flashbacks a bit more apparent sooner in the scene. Otherwise, I really have nothing bad to say about it. The 70s aesthetic was brilliantly done. Though the whole picture was so saturated with it that you could never mistake the time period for anything other than what it was, it wasn't as if they were blaring an ear-grating disco soundtrack or showing billboards or making unnecessary references to current pop-culture or politics.

So; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy...a must-see for anyone willing to have a good think through a spy thriller that - for once - doesn't rely on insanely improbable technology, unrealistic explosions, or oversexed femmes fetale to drive the plot along.

Next movies on my Need to See list? The Help and Anonymous. The latter is a Shakespearean thriller about the true identity of the Bard - again with a stellar cast. And, I have to say, I have a soft spot in my heart for anything with Derek Jacobi in it. After all, we did used to be neighbours! (True story!)

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