Sunday, January 1, 2012
Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy (2011)
I'm quite impressed with the movie adaptation. At places I wondered whether someone not acquainted with the novel or TV series would be able to follow the plot, but after the first 30-40 minutes the narrative became quite clear.
Gary Oldman's George Smiley is an entirely different person from Alec Guinness', which is not necessarily a bad thing. Guinness was perhaps closer to the novel's description of Smiley -- soft spoken, quiet, a bit like a retired accountant. One immediately identifies with him and trusts his benevolence. Oldman's presence is perhaps stronger, edgier, and darker than Guinness. It is no accident that he has been cast in many villainous roles. There is a vicious glint behind the thick, black rimmed glasses to suggest a formidable force.
Likewise, the TV series was closer to the novel in style and tone than the movie. I read the novel a couple of decades ago and remember the writing style as a bit heavy and slow, and unnecessarily convoluted. The movie dramatically paired down the personal histories and relationships of the five top men of the Circus and improved on story efficiency at the cost of some major characters. For example, Ciarand Hinds' Roy Bland was completely unused.
The real accomplishment of the movie is the visual narrative and editing. It is a very complicated story, and the original material is heavily expository. The movie could easily have slipped into scene after scene of one character telling another character what happened and what it all meant. Tomas Alfredson (who is surprisingly young) exceeded my expectations. It is incredible how few words were spoken in the whole movie --- the absolute bare minimum number of words necessary. I wonder whether this is a specialty of Scandinavian filmmakers. They all seem to grow up shooting very short screenplays. Italian screenplays must routinely be 10 times longer than Swedish/Norwegian/Finnish screenplays.
With its blue gray color palette and spare dialog, the movie could have been heavy and tired, but in fact I came out of the theater with a grin on my face. There is something funny and ironic about all this, but I can't quite explain what or how. A very black kind of humor and romance it is, and not unlike Alfredson's previous movie "Let the Right One in."
For one thing, all the "old" characters were intentionally made to look particularly greasy, bald, ugly, and flat-out hideous. Especially bald, as one hardly ever spots a bald man in a major role in movies. The only woman, poor Connie Sachs, fared as badly as "her boys." The "young" characters, on the other hand, looked practically gorgeous in contrast with the geezers.
John Hurt's C was rather hilarious, shouting at the gang from time to time like a grumpy mad grandpa. The love affair between Bill Hayden (Colin Firth) and Jim Predeaux (Strong) was a bit too hammed up and actually screwed up another plot twist.
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