by Steve Habrat
If I have learned one thing at the movies this summer, I have learned that Tom Hardy is one scary man. I think if I were to pass him on the sidewalk, I’d quickly cross the street to avoid him. As if his villainous turn as hulking terrorist Bane in The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t enough to make this guy one intimidating bastard, wait until you get a load of him in director John Hillcoat’s Lawless, a Prohibition era thriller about bootleggers in Franklin County, Virginia. Based on the book The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, Hillcoat’s thriller, which is based on a true story, does find a few common gangster movie qualities blotching the screenplay by Nick Cave. However, Lawless is saved by the explosive performances from this must-see ensemble cast, who all seem to be relishing this material. Still, I really wish I could say that Lawless avoided things we have seen from movies like this in the past but sadly, it gets caught in the same web that many of these films do. The story line does gasp one breath of fresh air by its use of Prohibition as the backdrop for these outlaws. I also admired the setting, far away from the big city bustle and nestled in the hills where Mother Nature isolates the Bondurant boys behind her natural wooded wall. Yet Lawless is sent into the stars by the terrifying turn from Hardy, a role that I can only hope is not forgotten come Awards season.
Welcome to the hills of Prohibition era Franklin County, Virginia, a serene and seemingly peaceful place where bootlegging runs rampant. The stars of this bootlegging party are the Bondurant boys, who seem to be on top of the world just out of the clutches of the law. The Bondurant boys are made up of the quiet but threatening Forrest (Played by Tom Hardy), who is also the leader of the group, hothead Howard (Played by Jason Clarke), and runt Jack (Played by Shia LaBeouf). The boys run their illegal business out of their dusty roadside bar but they soon find themselves harassed by flamboyant Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Played by Guy Pearce), a hot shot from Chicago who wants a cut of the profits that the Bondurant boys bring in. After Forrest refuses, Rakes comes down hard on the bootleggers nestled in the hills and slowly begins shutting down their operations in the most brutal ways he can. After a nasty run in with Jack and a murder attempt is made on Forrest, a war is sparked in the Franklin County hills but the Bondurants have no intention of shutting down their business.
Cold and bristly, with tons of blood to get tossed around the furiously exhaustive sets, Lawless sure is one hell of a vicious ride into an untamed world. Prohibition is something that you never hear too much about, so it comes as a major shock to see it done with so much fury. People are harshly stabbed, shot, tarred, feathered, rapped, tortured, and beaten, cutthroat punishments for a cutthroat business I suppose. Despite the horrific violence (trust me, it is horrific), the film itself boasts rich amounts of cinematography from Benoit Delhomme, who makes every scene of the film appropriate to cut out and frame on your wall. While the film has plenty of violence to go around, there are some thick dramatics draped over this lawless world, so thick that you could almost cut it with a dull and rusty blade. There are two delicately delivered romances, one between Forrest and bar waitress Maggie Beauford (Played by Jessica Chastain), a former dancer looking that desperately wanted a quiet life but has stumbled into something worse and one between Jack and Bertha Minnix (Played by Mia Wasikowska), a seemingly innocent preacher’s daughter with a rebellious streak. Both are delivered with heart-on-the-sleeve compassion, making us root for both love stories to triumph in this world of blood.
Lawless achieves a must-see status due to the performances, especially the one from the hulking Hardy, who portrays Forrest Bondurant as a grunting bear of a man who speaks in a southern drawl that sounds like grinding gravel mixed with thick globs of molasses. While he is technically the good guy, Hardy owns any room he walks into and he leaves you wiping the sweat off of your palms when he leaves. The characters all whisper that Forrest is invincible and you will be left half believing it throughout the runtime. At times, he can be surprisingly funny, especially when Chastain’s Maggie tries to offer some affection his way. When he has his back against the wall, God forbid he reaches in his cardigan pocket and pulls out his dread brass knuckles, which he uses with precise savagery. While Hardy deserves a spot in the Best Supporting Actor category at the Academy Awards, he finds some competition from Pearce, a corrupt lawman with oily hair and dressed in fancy suits. Pearce, who I swear is incapable of delivering a lousy performance, is just as unpredictable as Hardy when it comes to his temper. Vaguely perverted and as slippery as they come, he is a corrupt soul who finds delight in bringing down a wave of misery on all who cross him.
In a way, it is almost a shame that Hardy and Pearce are so good because they actually overshadow the other great performances. LaBeouf, who has recently said that he is done with big studio films, punches in a subtle performance that slowly flares up into an uncontrollable rage. He’s a runt that becomes reckless and you will hate him for it, especially when he has a good thing right in the palm of his hand. That good thing is sweet Bertha, the gentle daughter of a preacher who hides her interest in the business that Jack and his brothers are into. Clarke gets to play the bloodthirsty psycho of the three Bondurant boys. You will cringe when Forrest decides to let him off his leash and you pray that Forrest puts him back on it the second he is unleashed. Chastain is as gorgeous as ever as the delicate Maggie, who has the hots for the closed off Forrest. Along with Wasikowska’s Bertha, they form a calming force that balances out all the violence. Dane DeHaan joins this gangster party as the handicapped Cricket, who helps the Bondurant boys brew the their liquor. Rounding out the supporting players is the superb Gary Oldman, who stops by to blow us all away as Floyd Banner, a mobster who enjoys carrying a Tommy gun around and blasting away right in front of an innocent audience.
As the sense of doom wafts through the trees of Franklin County, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis provide an appropriately nippy score that is all twanging guitars, bluegrass chants, and static hums that slowly build as the tension mounts. Lawless certainly suffers from some predictability but I will say that there are a few surprise scenes that really catch you off guard. Still, I am willing to forgive because Hillcoat’s work draws you in close and then refuses to let you walk away cleanly. He shakes you up and he does it in such a tasteful manner. While I can’t say that I liked Lawless as much as Hillcoat’s scorching Australian western The Proposition, I will say that I enjoyed the film a bit more than his previous big screen offering The Road. Overall, Lawless may be brewed from a recipe we have all tried before but this batch has enough burn going down and a unique lingering buzz to have you reaching for a second shot and maybe even a third.
Video review of the new Batman film The Dark Knight Rises. This was a tough film to discuss due to content that many may label as spoilers. I really tried to avoid revealing anything that will ruin the experience so please do not judge the video too harshly. Also, my heart goes out to the victims of the shooting in Colorado. It is a shame that someone had to ruin something that was meant to be fun and exciting. My deepest sympathies are with the families of the victims.
by Steve Habrat
It is finally here, folks! One of the most anticipated films of all time is finally crashing into theaters and everyone is dying to know if it lives up to the sky high expectations that have been set by critics, fanboys, and average moviegoers alike. Well folks, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment in his wildly prevalent Batman franchise, does live up to the gigantic expectations. In fact, it lives up to those expectations and then blows them to smithereens. If you can believe it, Nolan manages to craft a film that is bleaker and darker than anything he came up with in his shadowy origin tale or his chilling bridge film. This goes way beyond dark territory and dives headlong into black no man’s land. Nolan pits our flesh and blood hero against a foe that he is no match for and throws in an evil plot to end all other evil plots. Raising the bar even higher than he did with 2008’s showstopper The Dark Knight, Nolan once again begins tinkering with the formula of the superhero movie and what he conjures up is a mammoth ogre of a film that finds itself intrigued with our unshakeable fear of terrorism in our post 9/11 world. It could be called a rehash but Nolan is witty enough to put the lives of hundreds of thousands on the line and with a number like that, there is no way everyone can survive.
I won’t provide too much about the plot in this review so I will stick to the barebones basics. Eight years after the Joker brought Gotham City to its knees, crime has been almost completely scrubbed away from the streets of Gotham. The city still mourns the death of their “white knight” Harvey Dent, who was driven insane by the Clown Prince of Crime and went on a killing spree that left several individuals dead. In an attempt to keep hope alive in Gotham, Batman (Played by Christian Bale) has taken the fall for Dent’s crimes and disappeared from the city. Commissioner Jim Gordon (Played by Gary Oldman) has been grappling with the fact that he has been feeding the public lies and finds himself on the verge of revealing the true Harvey Dent to the citizens of Gotham. Bruce Wayne, who is still licking the wounds he suffered at the hands of Dent and the Joker, stays locked away inside Wayne Manor, which has now been rebuilt. Wayne is shaken out of retirement after he stumbles upon a vampy burglar by the name of Selina Kyle (Played by Anne Hathaway) making off with his mother’s necklace. As Bruce begins to investigate Kyle’s background, he discovers a much larger plot to destroy Gotham City. This plot is being led by the terrifying mercenary Bane (Played by Tom Hardy), who is diligently building an army below the streets of Gotham, waiting for the proper moment to emerge and turn the city to ash.
Dropping the thriller routine that he was fond of in The Dark Knight, Nolan crafts a large-scale disaster epic that leaves our hero scrambling to gather all the help he can find. He discovers that he may be able to trust Kyle, who is desperate to erase her rocky past any way she can. Batman also finds that he can trust Gotham City beat cop Detective John Blake (Played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an admirer of Batman’s efforts to clean up the city. He also finds help in the usual suspects Lucius Fox (Played by Morgan Freeman), his gadgets man, Commissioner Gordon, and Alfred Pennyworth (Played by Michael Caine), his trusty butler. While The Dark Knight Rises slowly evolves from disaster film into war epic, Nolan bombards the viewer with countless images of destruction and devastation that settles in the pit of your stomach like a rock. We’ve all seen the scenes of the football field collapsing and the overhead shots of bridges getting blown to hell, but that doesn’t soften their impact, especially when Hans Zimmer’s rumbling score joins in. It is through heavy scenes like this that you have to wonder if these new alliances will even make a ripple against Bane’s tidal wave of terror.
While The Dark Knight Rises has plenty of jaw-dropping action sequences, the film is carried off into greatness by the performances of everyone involved. The standouts are definitely the new kids on the block, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The one who steals the movie (fitting for her character) is Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, who is never once referred to as Catwoman. A Robin Hood figure dressed in a black body suit and goggles, Kyle is firecracker as she slinks through this boys show. She gets a kick out of seducing rich men and then taking them for all that they have. While Hathaway is great, she gets some competition from Hardy’s Bane, a hulking terrorist with a fang-like gas mask bolted to his face. While Hardy is given the nearly impossible task of following up Heath Ledger’s Joker, he holds his own as an equally sadistic “liberator” who manhandles anyone who tries to go up against him. Rounding out the new kids is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s beat cop Blake, a good guy who catches the attention of Commissioner Gordon, and Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises investor who is desperately trying to shake Bruce Wayne out of his funk.
Then we have the veterans who all exit Gotham City in plenty of style. Bale shines even brighter here as Wayne, now a gaunt recluse who has shut himself out of the world in the wake of what the Joker took from him. You will want to stand up and cheer when Bruce finally leaves the halls of Wayne Manor and hits the streets once again as the Batman. As Batman, Bale brings a ferocity that we haven’t yet seen from him as Batman. We briefly glimpsed it in the interrogation scene in The Dark Knight but here; Batman is a predator that is foaming at the mouth. Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox jumps at the opportunity to get Bruce back in the crime fighting game. He gets to unveil Batman’s latest “wonderful toy” The Bat, a prototype flying machine that is beyond nifty. Caine’s Alfred gets the most emotional moments of the film as he pleads with Bruce to not confront this new evil that is ripping Gotham to shreds. He gets one specific scene with Bruce Wayne that will hit you in the gut like a wrecking ball. Then there is Oldman’s Gordon, who is suffering from the fib he has told about Harvey Dent. You will fight back geeky applause when Batman and Gordon finally reunite after eight years.
Sadly, The Dark Knight Rises does have a few flaws, which are mildly distracting. One in particularly really bothered me but I won’t reveal it here because many may label it a spoiler. There is also one character that is left slightly undeveloped, which was a shame because it would have improved the twist at the end of the film. Despite the flaws, Nolan once again holds up a gritty reflection of our current political backdrop. While I don’t think it was intentional, Nolan touches upon the Occupy Wall Street movement and the 99% rising up against the 1%. The film was written just slightly before the protests but you have to hand it to Nolan for picking up on the tensions. He also can’t resist touching upon terrorism, the theme even heavier here than it was in The Dark Knight. While I am reluctant to say too much about the film because the less you know going in, the better it will be, I can promise you that the last hour of this film is why we go to the movies. You will fight the urge to leap out of your seat and throw air punches as Batman and Bane battle for the fate of Gotham City. I’ll admit that I was fighting back tears in the final moments of the film, Nolan wrapping everything up in the finest way possible, which meant the world to this Batfan. While its few flaws may make it fall short of being a masterpiece, The Dark Knight Rises is easily the best Batman film ever made, the best blockbuster of the summer, and the best film of 2012 so far. If you want my opinion, epic doesn’t even scratch the surface of what Nolan has delivered here. It is a commanding tour de force that will almost make you forget to breathe. A must-see.
by Steve Habrat
Love is a battlefield, a clammy, sexy, battlefield according to director McG, the hot shot, second rate Michael Bay. This Means War is a film overly concerned with a sexy appearance and frankly, not much more. McG, the director of such sugary blockbusters like Terminator: Salvation and Charlie’s Angles, is only interested with the outer shell of his products, sacrificing story and even moments of coherence just to nab a shot of Reese Witherspoon’s bottom to drive the male audience wild or twist Tom Hardy or Chris Pine into the proper pose to take the female audience’s breath away. For a film as shallow as This Means War, there are sporadic moments of hilarity and fizzy chemistry between the three stars that almost make up for a one-note script, half-hearted message about love, and a sub plot that is almost entirely forgotten by the people behind the camera. Oh well, at least it looks good!
This Means War introduces us to super spies FDR (Played by Chris Pine) and Tuck (Played by Tom Hardy), a pair of best chums who globe trot around in slick suits, hit on gorgeous gals, and track a terrorist by the name of Heinrich (Played by Til Schweiger). After their target narrowly gets away in the opening shoot out, a confrontation that leaves Heinrich’s brother Jonas dead, FDR and Tuck return to the states and are benched out of protection from Heinrich. These perfect male specimens also apparently have crappy luck when it comes to women. FDR enjoys womanizing and Tuck, a divorced dad, resorts to online dating to meet a good gal. As it turns out, down-on-her-luck Lauren (Played by Reese Witherspoon), a product-testing executive, is paired up with Tuck. After their first date, which goes rather well, Lauren bumps into FDR, who pursues her until she agrees to go on a date with him. FDR and Tuck soon decide to reveal to each other who they have been dating. When they realize it is the same girl, they decide they are still going to pursue Lauren and let her decide who she wants to be with. This does not stop them from trying to sabotage each other in the process, using every spy trick in the book.
This Means War leans heavily on the gag that these two guys use every espionage tool at their disposal to keep tabs on each other’s progress with Laruen, who remains clueless the entire time. They conceal hidden cameras in her apartment, tap her phone, and have a team of techies that aid them along and deliver information. It’s all slightly amusing but never overly hilarious until Tuck takes Laruen paintballing, after she tells her best friend Trish (Played by Chelsea Handler, who plays herself here) that he is a bit too safe and earnest. What transpires is a hysterical shoot out at a paintball range, a scene that single handedly out shines every other humorous moment This Means War has to offer. This trumping each other does get fatigued at times, the film always trying to devise another scenario where one can shoot the other with a knock out dart or one can use a mini spy plane to tail the other.
When the one note gag yawns, the film suddenly remembers the side plot involving Heinrich, who is slowly making plans of his own to find FDR and Tuck. The problem here is that the film brushes over these moments and seems too anxious to get back to Tuck and FDR’s battle for Lauren. If the filmmakers were going to half-ass this aspect of the film, you would have thought that they would have made their scuffle over Lauren the only plot. What makes this even worse is that there are so many plot holes in the Heinrich plot that nothing ever adds up! Half the time we are just left hanging. We learn that he is a terrorist but who does her terrorize exactly? What is the device at the beginning of the film and why is it so sinister? Why does he even need to be arrested? Because he is frequents swanky rooftop bars? Who cares, back to Tuck hijacking a radio frequency and feeding FDR false information while he is on a date!
For such a lackluster film, at least Pine, Hardy, and Witherspoon all come out with their dignity in tact. In addition to their physical appearance, these three actually posses talent and know how to make everything work, even if they are straining. It’s good to have Witherspoon back after a string of low-key dramas no one remembers. She was lovable while she juggles two love interests. If you’ve seen Inception, Bronson, or Warrior, then you already know that Hardy is an astonishingly talented guy (Seriously, see Bronson for a mind blowing performance) and here, he plays things fairly average, something that was both fresh after some of the roles he has taken and somewhat disappointing because he is a truly colorful guy. Like Witherspoon, Pine hasn’t had much of a presence at the movies since his awesome performance as Captain Kirk in Star Trek. He retains some of the cockiness he utilized when he tackled Captain Kirk, acting as the much more confident one to Hardy’s average Joe.
This Means War is loaded with photogenic moments. A glimmering explosion here, a sexy thespian there, and strobe like fight scenes everywhere. It’s painfully obvious at times (Lauren is a product tester who is also testing two guys to figure out who is the better choice) and the message is about as subtle as an elephant crashing through your front door. Yes, love is a battlefield where people get hurt and it can also be a game where you have to plot your next move meticulously. But in This Means War, the plotting of the moves is sometimes borderline creepy (Seriously, phone tapping?!). It’s all in good fun says director McG, who plays everything up to juvenile boys just being juvenile boys. I enjoyed myself in spurts during This Means War, never really hating it but never really having my funny bone tickled too hard (The paintball scene was an exception). I guess I should look on the bright side, at least Katherine Heigl was nowhere to be found.
by Steve Habrat
If you waved off Warrior, the Mixed Martial Arts drama that snuck out last fall, do yourself a favor and see it before all the UFC fans discover it and ruin it. Clichéd but rousing, Warrior is a vehicle for strong performances and easy dramatics. The whole UFC craze has baffled me and, quite honestly, annoyed me due to the obnoxious bros who worship before it. The beauty of Warrior is that it takes MMA seriously and it is never intolerable. In fact, it lays waste to the obnoxious fighters who dare tangle with Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton with fury to spare! Warrior takes things a step further and gives the Conlon brothers, who act as the wounded heart and soul of this picture, real reasons to dish out punches. They are never doing this to simply stroke their masculine egos like so many of the MMA competitors do.
Warrior follows Marine Tommy Conlon (Played by Hardy), who returns home from a tour of duty in Iraq with a heavy heart. He joins a local gym where he jumps into the ring with MMA fighter Pete “Mad Dog” Grimes and knocks him out with one punch. Tommy’s brother Brendan (Played by Edgerton) is living a seemingly stable and happy life with a beautiful wife and two daughters. It turns out that Brendan, who is mild-mannered physics teacher, is on the verge of losing his home and moonlighting as a small time MMA fighter. Both Tommy and Brendan learn of “Sparta”, a MMA tournament that offers a $5,000,000 reward to the winner. Tommy, who decides to compete in “Sparta” to help out his deceased best friend’s widow, enlists the help of his alcoholic father Paddy Conlon (Played by Nick Nolte), who use to train him for wrestling when he was younger. Brendan also begins training so he can use the money to keep his home and family together. Paddy uses the opportunity to attempt to reconnect with his sons, who both have fractured relationships with him.
I’ve always thought that the MMA and the UFC craze was troublesome because it eggs on individuals who are desperate to prove how masculine and tough they are to everyone else. You’ve seen the fans at your local bar on a Saturday night decked out in their Tapout t-shirts, downing Jager bombs, and on the prowl for a fight. They are convinced they are just as tough as the fighters they see on television and just as egotistical too. Granted, I am not saying everyone who watches UFC is influenced by it, but sadly, there will always be those who feel they must express their masculinity by emulating the beat downs they see on television. Warrior is none of these things, making the barbaric “sport” seemed disciplined with hints of honor. These men are not only fighting muscle heads but they are constantly grappling with their inner demons. It helps that Hardy, Edgerton, and Nolte all bring the A-game to the table.
Hardy’s Tommy is a haunted pill popper who isn’t craving fame or recognition. He is making good on a promise and he will fight like hell to deliver. He wants none of the glitz or glamour. Edgerton’s underdog Brendan is a family man who was dealt a handful of unfair blows by life. He will fight like hell to keep his family together even if that means taking severe beatings. Nolte’s Paddy is grappling with the demons of his past, trying to reconcile with his sons who want none of his pleas for forgiveness. He’s a recovering alcoholic who is on the verge of slipping back into the bottles grip. The three come together to make Warrior a film that isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve, something I don’t think is common when it comes to UFC culture.
Director Gavin O’Connor seemed to understand his film was a tough sell to viewers who are not swept up by meatheads trying to pin each other into an armbar. He makes a fragile drama that thrills when the fights take center stage but knocks us sideways when the emotions pour out. There is a scene where Paddy shows up to Brendan’s home that will puts your heart in an armbar. You want to tap out of the scene due to how agonizingly heartbreaking it truly is. Another blow-up occurs in a casino between Tommy and Paddy, Tommy unleashing his anger towards Paddy with absolutely no mercy. Warrior swipes the shaky camerawork and weary atmosphere from countless other boxing films (mainly The Fighter and Rocky), even taking place in Pennsylvania like the Stallone classic.
Warrior turns out to be a permutation of sports movie staples. It has an underdog story, family drama, and ends with a monumental showdown. O’Connor takes his good old time and builds the suspense of the fights quite nicely. One problem I had with Warrior was a last act twist with Hardy’s character that seemed crammed in at the last minute to add another layer of conflict but it ends up amounting to absolutely nothing. If you don’t give Warrior a chance over the subject matter, it’s worth it for film fans to take in Nolte’s portrayal of a man trying to make up for the mistakes he has made in life. Warrior turns out to be an accessible and memorable sports film that doesn’t attempt to reconfigure the sports film structure. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Instead, it is content with embracing all the qualities that make up the genre and delivering an end result that is enduring and uplifting.
Warrior is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
I’m glad I let Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy marinate in my mind for a few hours before I sat down to hammer out a review of it. I emerged from the matinee showing with my head spinning and my brain scrambling to put the pieces of this puzzle together. I was so hastily trying to wrap my head around what I had just seen. I was initially let down by it and to think I was so excited to see this smoky, earth toned espionage thriller that looked like it was ripped out of the 1970s. I thought it would be full of thrills and white-knuckle moments. Folks, I’m here to tell you it’s not what you think it is. Despite passing itself off as a Cold War spy flick, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is about the men that were causalities of this war that consisted of suspicion and heightened awareness of the individual at your side. Accusations flew in place of bullets. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is about bombed out egos rather than bombed out cities. If character studies and talky dramas turn you off, either wait until this film is at your local Red Box or skip it entirely. If you are willing to let it into your brain, you will find it slowly creeping down your spine hours after you see it.
Set in 1973, retired British Intelligence agent George Smiley is lured out of retirement by Oliver Lacon (Played by Simon McBurney), the civil servant in charge of intelligence, to investigate a mole who has infiltrated intelligence and has apparently been there for years. Smiley teams up with fleeing agent Ricki Tarr (Played by Tom Hardy) and intelligence officer Peter Guillam (Played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and together they launch an investigation aimed at the new Chief of the Circus Percy Alleline (Played by Toby Jones), his deputy Bill Haydon (Played by Colin Firth), and his allies Roy Bland (Played by Ciarán Hinds) and Toby Esterhause (Played by David Dencik). Smiley begins meeting with individuals who were forced out of positions due to their suspicions and accusations, now left in ruin and haunted by what the know. Along the journey, Smiley tries to repair his shattered past and come to terms with his demons that silently plague him.
While it is certainly a droll film in it’s first forty-five minutes, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy finally sets things in motion when more layers begin to peel away. The one aspect I really liked in the beginning was the fact that Smiley barely spoke any dialogue and he lets his world-weary face do all the work. His eyes are cartoonishly enlarged behind his thick-rimmed specs and his mouth slightly opens as if he is about to let a thought out but he quickly remembers to cage it back up. He is a curious one. When he does speak, he has a raspy and weary voice to fit his somnolent eyes, though his words have been dipped in thick globs of confidence. Oldman does a terrific job with Smiley and he will certainly get an Oscar nomination for his aloof portrayal of John le Carré’s heartbroken spy. I found myself replaying the scenes of Smiley strolling through the misty, dingy streets of Cold War London or Smiley sitting alone in his apartment as the television chirps in the background. There is a knock at the door and in response, his head slightly turns, and this is when we get a quick glimpse at his broken and lonely heart.
The rest of the supporting players in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy hold up quite well next to the slow burn of Oldman’s Smiley. This is, afterall, a character piece. Firth’s Bill Haydon is a standout, providing some small bursts of humor in the relentlessly dreary atmosphere. Hardy’s Ricki Tarr seems like he will be the tough guy but Hardy has the good sense to show us that even tough guys have a breaking point. Jones’ Percy Alleline is a supercilious and loose cannon little twerp who you would never dare cross (even if he only stands at 5’5”). What is fascinating about these men, who all appear to be working on the same side, is that if their eyes were daggers, no one would be left standing. They sit around in a smoky boardroom and stare each other down, loose their cools, stomp off, and sulk. And yet Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy holds the moments where we see them fall victim to all the suspicion, accusations, and attempts at ruin. They collapse when the chips are down and it is almost worse than any of the actually carnage that the film shows us.
Behind all the cigarette smoke and glaring actors, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy offers us eye-popping art direction, allowing Cold War London to really come alive. At times, I felt that the sets were actually characters in the movie. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is also shrouded in a film noir atmosphere and the only thing missing is a femme fatale to lure these men to their fate. Director Tomas Alfredson has made a film that slowly grows in the hours after it has been seen, coaxing you back to uncover more. It is watered by your own puzzlement over it and your drive to want to put it all together. The film never resorts to gunfights or fists fights and it only builds excitement through heated exchange. The downfall of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is that the film sometimes seems unsure how to actually build that suspense and the narrative gets caught up in itself. Talky and arty with a nifty old school swag, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy works better as a portrait of wrecked men rather than as a chilly espionage mystery.