May 25, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 09 February 2012 12:04
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help parents choose what to watch. This week’s pick is an adaptation of the best-selling novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
For years, Gary Oldman has delivered one strong movie performance after another only to be overlooked in year-end awards. His work is so subtle, and his abilities to disguise himself so effective, that be becomes his own worst enemy, making it look easy to create movie magic.
From his chilling impersonation of Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK to his disturbing Ludwig van Beethoven in Immortal Beloved, Oldman is a character actor who disappears into each layer of portrayal he creates. He was a frightening villain in Air Force One, a devious legislator in The Contender and a compassionate Commissioner Gordon in the new Batman films, while also putting in time as Sirius Black in Harry Potter. Oldman always works but is too easy to forget when performances are honored.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy would be a film to see if only for Oldman’s brilliant performance as a man forced from retirement to confront complex espionage. Fortunately, Oldman’s superlative work lives within a breathtaking adaptation of the John le Carré novel. While the thought that a film about spies in the 1970s could keep our attention in 2012 may be difficult to imagine, Tinker Tailor recreates the tension of the period with such consistent detail that we feel, at times, we are watching a period piece made during the period. Though the movie is quiet, deliberately slow at moments and complex in situation, the payoff is marvelous for people willing to sit, listen and absorb. This is not a film to text or snooze your way through.
Just as in the novel, and the famed television mini-series, Tinker Tailor on film follows the efforts to find a spy in British intelligence. In the 1970s, with world tensions creating global concern, such a breech of security could have enormous impact. Without the bravado of a James Bond or Jason Bourne, the ever-ingenious Smiley, played by Oldman, hunts for the mole with a precision of thought and a consistency of objective. Though the film rests on visuals and dialogue to create its attention — without the computer-enhanced chase scenes and action sequences we have come to expect — the tension that builds between characters jumps from the screen. This is a sterling adaptation of a tricky story that could have been overwhelmed by its complexity.
Oldman, an actor who embraces challenge, seeks to free his portrayal from the memories of the late Sir Alec Guinness, who created a memorable Smiley on television in the late 1970s. The shrewd Oldman, at first, suggests a vocal approach to the role similar to Guinness, almost sounding like the great actor at times, perhaps to make us comfortable. Slowly, as the film progresses, and the character grows, the actor expands his portrayal to reach depths that Guinness only suggested in a much longer piece. Oldman, like all great character actors, is an exercise in restraint, letting his eyes do most of the work, allowing the tension of the story to build in his physical approach. This is a bravura example of subtle acting that well deserves the Academy Award nomination.
Colin Firth, last year’s Oscar winner for The King’s Speech, is strong in a supporting role, as are former Oscar nominee John Hurt and the lesser-known Benefit Cumberbatch who, in one strong scene, registers a film’s worth of tension and insight. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson brings a fresh eye to the material and a strong appreciation for its period; the detail of the production design will convince you the clock has turned back. The screenplay by Bridget O’Conner and Peter Straughan streamlines the content of the le Carré novel without diluting its impact.
No matter its success as a film, Tinker Tailor will be remembered as the movie that finally landed Oldman an Oscar nomination. While he faces strong competition to win the award, this long-overlooked actor should celebrate his moment. Oldman deserves a chance to be remembered.
* Content: High. Tinker Tailor recreates a period in movie and world history when the spies were rampant and the tension was high. Those were the good old days.
* Entertainment: High. Even though the situations and characters are complex, and the dialogue can be detailed, the film is a marvelous thrill ride.
* Message: Medium. While the portrayals of the various factions may be as dated as their clothing, the fundamentals of world tension remain intact.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to return a film style that celebrates the grand movies of the 1970s is welcome.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your older children about the great spy films we have enjoyed over the years.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is rated R for violence, nudity and language, and runs 127 minutes.
4-1/2 Popcorn Buckets
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