angelophile: (Leon Peekaboo)
[personal profile] angelophile

This movie…

It had something to live up to. The brilliant novel by ex-spymaster John le Carré. The magnificent BBC adaptation starring Alec Guinness and Ian Richardson. That’s stepping into some big shoes.

And big shoes need big feet to fill them. So, with John le Carré on board as executive producer, they’ve pulled out the cream of British character actors of a certain generation. Gary Oldman is George Smiley. The other denizens of the Circus - Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Kathy Burke, Stephen Graham, Roger Lloyd-Pack…

That’s a cast.

Director Tomas Alfredson and Director of Photography Hoyte Van Hoytema can’t be ignored either. Together they create a grey, dirty world around the British secret service in the grip of the Cold War. This isn’t gentlemen spies or glamor - everything is worn and grimy, subdued and dated. The period detailing is fantastic and the film looks simply amazing.

From all the cast it’s hard to pick out any for special praise. Oldman more than acquits himself in the near impossible task of following Alec Guinness. Kathy Burke is a star as poor Connie Sachs. Benedict Cumberbatch actually gets the lion’s share of the dramatic moments and shines. But it’s an ensemble piece outside of Oldman with characters orbiting around him as he weaves an incredible performance - all sad, grey little man, maudlin and meticulous, untangling the web to expose the double agent right at the top of MI6.

The main point of criticism has to be that, by boiling the story down to a two hour movie, the secondary characters are left poorly defined. It saps some of the tension when the suspects are left rather blank slates, leaving the final reveal to fall a little flat. And the movie finally falters once that reveal is made, a brilliant two-hander between Smiley and the mole rather overbalanced by a sudden shift away from subtlety. The original book and BBC adaptation work better by showing less.

But those points aside, the movie looks amazing and features some incredible performances, even outside of Gary Oldman’s wonderfully restrained Smiley. The performances are what make the film so utterly absorbing. It’s a beautifully crafted piece.

I suspect that the movie is going to score huge with critics (currently 97% on Rotten Tomatoes), but may struggle with a transatlantic audience, where more in the way of thrills are expected from thrillers. This is a slow, ponderous unravelling of a dirty world devoid of glitz and glamor, filled with duplicity and unhappiness. Leaden, unhappy people doing miserable, dirty jobs. And as an artistic achievement from that respect. It’s powerful and impressive in its performances and detail. But that may not be enough to keep some people 'entertained'.

Me, I think it's a masterclass of acting talent.

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July 2013


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