Monday Movies Has Something To Trade. Something Big.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. My first summer in sleepaway camp, I was ten years old, and after a good run with a counselor’s Ken Follett novels, I attempted John Le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. I remember not a damn thing from it, and so was not surprised that many of the reviews, from friends and professionals, included warnings about laboring to follow the plot. So I warned Mrs. K-sky to “pay close attention — it’s a lot of white guys who look alike and aren’t what they seem.” My warning was overstated. The plot is reasonably straightforward. The twists, such as they are, are psychological and sexual rather than glittering plot origami. The movie, about the search to expunge a mole from the highest levels of “the Circus” as British intelligence hub MI-6 is known here, is stylish without being showy, and violent without having action.
Director Tomas Alfredson has brought along cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, who also shot Let The Right One In. As in the previous film, Tinker Tailor saturates a typically loud genre with mood, although where the horror movie felt unique, the spy movie is a savory throwback. There are exquisitely framed images throughout that elevate without distracting: both wide compositions, like a railyard filmed from directly overhead, and narrow ones, like a freight elevator with horizontally opening doors that yawn open behind a rider, revealing presence or absence (and by suggestion, suspicion or its absence). The visual nature of The Circus maximizes its panoptical character. A floor of open-format desks yields to another below through a circular balcony cut in the floor. The leadership meet in a room built separately into the main floor, a small box with a conference table, walled with Hare Krishna orange acoustic tile.
If you were to tell me that the Gary Oldmans from True Romance, the Nolan Batmans, and this were all different people, I would believe you. Oldman’s Smiley is anything but; forced out from The Circus, the only glimpse of emotion he shows is in a flashback, when he learns the identity of his wife’s lover and his face contorts, a revelation that will ripple through to the end of the film. Otherwise, the Oxbridge boys of military intelligence are a very emotional stratum. Just about everyone else cries, from rough-and-tumble Tom Hardy to gnomish Toby Jones. There is a lot of love that dare not speak its name.
- Magic Moment: Smiley’s face, spying what he doesn’t wish to know; also the payoff of that moment. Not revenge but even deeper understanding.
- Screenwriting Tips: This is a high-wire act. There are few of the reversals and none of the all-is-lost business so valued in storytelling. Just inexorable progress towards a high-stakes goal.
- Pot Pourri: Benedict Cumberbatch! What is he made of? As it turns out, the white guys don’t look anything alike.
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