Jan. 29th, 2012

zustifer: (comics: creeper)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), Tomas Alfredson. Jan 28, 7pm. View count: One.

Oh man am I pleased I got to see this on the big screen. I'd had some people tell me that they didn't understand it, and that it didn't work for them, but I did not have that experience. I'm sure there are some things I missed, but it mattered not at all, because of the character-centric tone of the movie. The characters had behavior that showed what they wanted -- and so I didn't need to know what the intricate machinations were doing at all times, because all of the characters had direction. If that makes sense. (Honestly even having said that, I didn't feel completely at sea or anything -- I'd wager that a lot of the backstory/intricacies were elided from this two-hour version of the story, and perhaps the remnant feeling of there being a lot of delicate navigation of the spy landscape remained without the actual events to back this up. This could have contributed to people's feelings of not knowing what was going on.)

Stylistically, this one's a beaut. It recalls my favorite slow-burn, distancing directors (Lars von Trier, Wim Wenders in a way, Coppola (specifically for The Conversation, which TTSS positively stunk of. This is the right choice). It also has a distinct european flavor to it, which makes sense given the director, but I'd forgotten this when I was watching, and I still kept thinking "What if von Trier had directed The Conversation in 1974?" (And had also done a good job, which is not always the case with von Trier. (Also: the original novel came out in 1974. Wheels within wheels.)) There's a lot of outside-looking-in, and distancing shots through frame-within-a-frame windows and doorways. Flat, square camera angles, with beautiful natural light sometimes and unpleasant institutional lighting others. The props and set dressing alone deserve a significant amount of praise; the early 1970s stylishness was impeccable, not to mention the effort that must have been expended in tracking down all the antiquated machines and institutional details.

There's little spy glamour in this piece. It's chiefly concerned with middle-aged men and their only subtly dramatic actions. There isn't a lot of hand-holding of the audience content-wise, either. Even Gary Oldman's acting is barely there, but still excellent (recalling Gene Hackman in The Conversation, for sure). I approve of all of these things.

Weirdly, even though the tone was good and the details seemed believable, it was obvious that this film is not from a british perspective. This adds a secondary amount of distance from the events -- a foreignness. I attribute a fair bit of the atmosphere to this thematically appropriate aspect; an underlying sense of not belonging is only right for a story immersed in (but barely focused on in its own right) spy culture. I'm going to read the book on which this movie was based, but I'm actually a little worried that it won't hold up without these visual/atmospheric layers.

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Karla Z

February 2012

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