The movie house here in the trailer park doesn't always get all the movies. Sure we get all the big studio releases, but some of the other stuff passes us by. The King's Speech was one of those films. We had to wait months and months for that one to come by, and only after there was all the Oscar talk. Jane Eyre and Anonymous never made it all. I guess they didn't think we were smart enough for those. Add to the list Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. To see this movie, we had to make our way down to the quasi-city of Modesto. I mean no disrespect to Modesto. It's got an arts center, an historical museum, a library that looks like a miniature Kennedy Center, two water features, possibly the largest winery in the world, and at least one and possibly as many as three strip joints depending on who you believe. With credentials like that, you can obviously see why they are more deserving than we to see this movin' picture.
Now, I readily admit that Sand and I go to see a lot of fluffy, cool whip type movies. The Piker Press gives us a limited budget, and we have to pick carefully those movies we want to go to. We use a sophisticated formula to choose our movies, factoring in such things as number of alien species represented, does the movie have Hugh Jackman, Bruce Willis, or Johnny Depp, are there any comic book super heroes involved, is the main character a hobbit? If any of these elements are present, we're there. If not, there had better be a darn good reason to risk our five bucks plus popcorn.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy seemed like it had good enough reason to be one of the forays outside of our usual fare, and indeed if our usual fare is largely fluff and cool whip, Tinker was solidly bangers and mash! Here is story to really sink your teeth into, and there is just a lot of good stuff here.
This is a story of the high stakes cat and mouse game that one imagines could be quite real in the shadowy world of international espionage. The British Intelligence community is suspected of having a mole, an operative planted in the organization by the enemy, the Russians. This mole may well be at the very top level of administration. Smiley (Gary Oldman), had been at that level of management, but had been forced out, retired as a result of a power struggle in the group. Because he is now an "outsider," he is tapped to ferret out the mole. This is no super-spy 007 shoot 'em up, this is a story of meticulous investigation and detective work. In the process, Smiley must confront a few ghosts from his own past in order to find the mole.
In the wrong hands, this could have been a boring film. Espionage is, it seems, a very cerebral business, a real head game. Add to that a main character who is a practiced stoic and you've got a story that may work well on paper where the reader can share what's going on inside his head, but is (I imagine) very hard to translate to the visual medium of movies. Credit director Tomas Alfredson with being able to pull this off very well. Visually this film works. Especially for us country bumpkin Americans, this film is filled with foreign places and foreign cars and foreign accents that right off the bat make it intriguing. And it is meticulously, properly, primly perfectly British. (We Americans watch these guys with fascination and apprehension realizing that we may one day grow up to be like this.) The actors are not Yanks trying to be British ala Robert Downey's Sherlock Holmes; this cast is an ensemble of fine British actors, and here is where the film finds its power, especially in Gary Oldman's portrayal of the cryptic main character Smiley. Author John Le Carré said in an interview that watching Oldman's performance gave him chills, and I would agree. With an economy of word and gesture, Oldman nonetheless makes the Smiley character dominate the scenes he is in. By his very stillness he is implacable; he moves at the pace and with the power of a glacier.
There are Oscar nominations in this films future. Oldman will certainly be nominated for Best Actor. I think the film also has a good chance at Best Picture, aided in part by a year that did not produce a lot of competition. Of course the Oscars are always a bit unpredictable and always have as much intrigue in the selection process as a John Le Carré novel, so anything is possible.
Since this film is still in relatively limited release, you may have to wait till it hits the Pay-for-View channels, but if you can, hitch up the wagon and head off to your nearest quasi-city cineplex just like Sand and I did and let them know that bib overalls are acceptable movie-going attire. Just be warned, they may make you wear a shirt under the overalls. And they say we're provincial.
Although there was a seven foot movie poster in the lobby of our usual theater for months, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy never did make an appearance there. I'd heard of the John Le Carré book that served as source material, as well as the BBC television series of 1979, but not being a fan of spy stories, hadn't bothered with them. What made this film different was my curiosity about how Gary Oldman would play his role.
I first encountered Oldman as the buffoonish evil entrepreneur Zorg in The Fifth Element; I was astounded to realize he was Gordon in Batman Begins. What did he do to his accent? And then he was the voice of Lord Shen in Kung Fu Panda 2. Who was this man who could look and sound so differently in different roles?
This morning I finally found a theater that was showing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. We drove to Modesto for the day's first showing, and were two of perhaps a dozen in the theater.
The theater, once a jewel of Modesto's newly renovated down town (a decade or more ago) was a bit worn. Looked like the walls needed painted, or at least scrubbed. The popcorn tasted like the oil used was on the teetering edge of being rancid. The seats were broken down and uncomfortable, and the previews of coming attractions were all violent, vulgar, and loud, as is always the case when you go to see an R-rated film. (One of the primary reasons I don't see many R-rated films.) My shoulder was starting to ache after 30 minutes of junk trailers, but then the feature started.
Within moments, I knew that this was a film that had to be paid attention to. No baby-food-in-your-face-pretend-its-an-airplane movie this. Think. Remember the names, remember the faces, remember what was said.
Popcorn was unimportant. The state of the theater and its seats had no hold on my attention. In the story, something had gone horribly wrong, and Gary Oldman, as George Smiley, had to figure out who was behind the betrayal.
Again, I note that I had no prior knowledge of what the story was about, so I was not at leisure to compare what was done in the movie with what was done in the book. What I experienced in this movie was a fast-paced thriller wrought with tension that had my hands sweating. Against the ticking clock racing through time as Smiley tries to unravel the mystery and the crime, place the stolid, unemotional, methodical chase: it's about papers, and records, and words whispered; it's about not losing your head, or having crashing shoot-outs. And at every turn, keep your eyes open, because you don't know where the next betrayal will occur.
When we left the theater, I was surreptitiously examining everyone around us in the plaza from behind my sunglasses; I checked the back seat of the car when we got to the parking garage; I locked the doors as we began to pull out onto the street. Whew!
I found the acting to be entrancing, the setting convincing, the story engrossing.
Surely the public library has a copy of the book -- I don't want to leave the story just yet.