Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The audience holds its breath. The projector shoots its beam of light which  fills the screen, composing a rather magnificent  grey  afternoon in which every sound is magnified on a Budapest lane. There is a mole on the loose but who is it? So begins the highly anticipated film version of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", a highly ambitious project with some compelling visual punctuation. But alas, this is a film that confounds me and appears to have left me in a decidedly English drizzle. 

How I wish it wasn't so. And although I am not a John le Carre devotee, I can sense the spice of a film, its rhythm and pacing and I can usually grasp its footsteps. This film feels a bit too, well... grey, both in pace and in palette.

At the start, the film had me snug in my chair. An agent Prideaux (Mark Strong)  is dispatched to seek out a mole in Budapest. The air is thick. Every sound is magnified from the striking of a match, the clinking of a glass, to the whimper of a baby. Strangers' eyes pivot as if strummed by a violin. A sweating waiter arrives. Prideaux  turns to leave. Suddenly , he is shot in the back by the waiter. It is an opening that would throw Hitchcock back into his rotund orbit. The scene is near musical in its score of apprehension. It is a visual question mark pointing to what might be next. A sudden thrill. If only the body of the film had kept that momentum.

Gary Oldman does a fine job as George Smiley. He is unrecognizable as his usual self: heavy, taciturn, official and old. 

Because of  Prideaux's murder, espionage feathers are ruffled. Smiley and Prideaux are forced into damage control  Smiley to retires to his grey-green flat and Prideaux ultimately resurfaces as a schoolteacher in a grey-green trailer. 

There is so much back and forth and so much listening in and listening out that I admit to getting lost in the shuffle, along with dim marches upstairs and down in hushed tones. The dialogue itself  appears bogged down with spy-speak (e.g, circus / witchcraft/ Karla that I  became over or is it underwhelmed? Flashbacks and characters  go to and fro forever. Soon, I was in the middle of a muddle. The characters too, have multiple names and this proved altogether too vexing. Should I have read the novel? Perhaps. But I doubt if it would be fair to require a prerequisite in the enjoyment of a film. However, on the side of satisfaction we have  Colin Firth who shows us some smarmy charm as a agent who missteps, along with Toby Jones who looks properly formidable,  obsequious and anemic.

The best parts that save this film from being a "Tinker Tailor Soldier Snooze" are the eerie qualities of menace that periodically pepper this monochrome cloak, particularly the agents' party hall. One glance at an ominous looking Santa Claus, with everyone standing in salute is all you need to know that you are in a den of wolves, reminiscent of an artwork by James Ensor or Otto Dix. Or how about the sight of an enflamed seagull roaring down a fireplace without Tippy Hedren? Or last but not least, a slain agent that is positioned like a freshly killed deer, his limbs covered by autumn leaves? These are welcome Gothic delights that brighten up long passages in grey parlor rooms.

This is where "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" succeeds.

You may call me an outlier on this outing if you wish, but I hope to emerge from this sedentary jump unscathed, to live and review another day.
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