Friday, October 7, 2011

"There's a mole, right at the top of the Circus. And he's been there for years."

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.


Ray Banks said...

Great post, Russel. I've yet to see TTSS, but we've been rewatching the Guinness mini-series. My first impression of Le Carré was through an episode of WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY, where Jonathan Pryce did a perfect Smiley (I think it's this episode) - - and so everything since has been coloured by that, for good or bad.

What's weirder about ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN for me is that it's a thriller that works despite the entire audience knowing how it ends, so there's ostensibly no real suspense. It's a testament to Pakula, Goldman and the two leads that it works.

Dana King said...

Thanks for the tip. We agree about contemporary "thrillers." They used to be about suspense and tension. Now they're about explosions and car chases.

Good point by Ray about ATPM. DAY OF THE JACKAL was like that for me. Everyone knows DeGaulle isn't going to die, but, damn, what's going to happen instead? Near the end I started to wonder if I'd missed something on the news.

Jay Stringer said...

Following on from Ray's comment about ATP thrilling despite everyone knowing the outcome, I found the same thing with VALKYRIE.

I know it's cool to hate it because of it's lead actor, but it's written by a good writer, directed by a good director, and had me on the edge of my seat despite knowing that they were all going to fail.

Dana King said...

I watched VALKYRIE a few years ago when I was laid up absolutely nothing else was on I wanted to see. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought Cruise was miscast, though he pulled it off pretty well, but the movie as a whole was excellent.