By Russel D McLean
Due to the fact that I'm working like hell at the moment today's post is neccesarily short and has pushed back my talk of three films of the eighties I loved. Hopefully next week we'll continues my SHADOWS RISING redux.
One of my favourite movies of the moment is TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY. Its a film that I know many people won't enjoy. Many people will, in fact, scratch their head and wonder how this movie is getting the acclaim it does. After all, its just a bunch of middle aged guys in suits talking cryptically for much of the movie, while the star, Gary Oldman, says as little as possible.
And yet its amazing film-making and an enthralling story. The story is tense, the threat palpable, the sense of realism absolute. This is spycraft at its most natural. Forget Bourne or Bond, the reality is that being a spy is a job like any other. And this movie - about the hunt for a mole in The Circus - captures that perfectly without resorting to the hystrionics or melodrama of most movies.
By relying on character and treating the audience with respect.
The other week The Literary Critic and I watched ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. Again, a thriller with very little in the way off kiss-kiss-bang-bang, it was all about people and wrapping the audience up in the conspiracy unfolding on screen. It was a film done through implication and character rather than punctuated by car chases and explosions. It was the perfect starter course before the main course TTSS.
Both films made you work to get the rewards, but that was what made them feel special and made their journey worthwhile. Yes, you had to pay attention. You couldn't drift off thinking about that text you needed to send or that email you had to reply to. You lost yourself in the minds and worlds of the characters on screen. You started - like Gary Oldman's Smiley - paying attention to the details, to what characters said and what they actually did, looking for the tells that would implicate the liars, and genuinely caring about who would and wouldn't be found to be wrapped up in the conspiracy that so perturbed our point of view characters.
With TV show THE WIRE, David Simon said he wanted to re-educate us on how to watch TV. He wanted us to start paying attention to each scene, to each detail. TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY does this for the movies, now. The movies that used to - in the 70's - be superior to television have started more and more to rely on the same cheap tricks and easy manipulations that used to define TV shows. Films like TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY that reward the audience for paying attention , that remind us of the joy of actual engagement with storytelling, are hopefully a marker that we are moving away from this again and back to solid, intelligent entertainment. Turn your brain on - after having it had switched off for so long - and you might find that entertainment is even more rewarding than you might think.