December 14, 2011
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the cool, ugly 70's
I watch a lot of movies, but every time I watch a spy movie, it's like I forget every convention used in filmmaking. I'm utterly confused by story twists, can't keep track of which character is on which side and who's double-crossing who, fail to catch 100% of subtly drawn hints about the central mystery, and often completely miss major plot points. All those shadowy whispers and code names and messy political alliances are completely lost on me.
So I was majorly relieved when my moviegoing partner came out of the theater after watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and was just as clueless as I was about pretty much everything that happened in the entire movie. That's not to say I didn't like it: when I decided to forget about trying to understand anything and just enjoy one of the best casts I've ever seen in my life and some truly phenomenal stylish/ugly set design, everything was great.
Apart from the central story about uncovering a mole in Britain's MI6 in the mid-70's, which I only faintly grasp even now, there are some wonderful subplots that I found much more compelling. Benedict Cumberbatch, whose name sounds like it's made of tweed and leather elbow patches, as Peter Guillam was my favorite part of the movie. He has the movie's most exciting scene, and its closest thing to an action sequence, involving a file room, a luggage tag, and a phone call from a mechanic. My other favorite automotive part of the movie is Guillam's car, a gorgeous 1966 Citroën DS 21 that looks like this (though as commenter Maddy points out, the photo is a 1970 model):
Other than that cool, sleek car, the movie revels in cluttered dinginess. As the revealed mole says at the end of the movie, "I had to pick a side, and it was an aesthetic choice as much as a moral one. The West has become so very ugly, don't you think?" The movie's design is amazing--it's as dedicated to drab 70's bureaucratic mustiness as "Mad Men" is to early 60's tidy modernity. The office scenes are like catalogs of outdated technology. In his review, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky notes that they must have had one hell of a typewriter budget.
My other favorite performance is by Tom Hardy as Ricky Tarr, the conflicted AWOL spy in love. The role was originally given to Michael Fassbender, who I guess was unable to squeeze it in around the 7,000 other movies he's done this year. Fassbender would have been good, sure, but Tom Hardy is probably a better rogue agent with that voice and those lips and all that handsomeness.
Director Tomas Alfredson, who also made the wonderful Let the Right One In, really knows what he's doing with casting, mood, and set design. Maybe if he'd been directing in his native language he might have illuminated the opaque script a little better. Or maybe I should have just read the book first.
TrackBack URL for this entry: