CATEGORIES Movie NewsI have always enjoyed the books of John le Carre and greatly admired the elegant prose, the subtle nuanced plot constructions and robust characterizations of people engaged in conspiratorial endeavors.
He was clearly a master of the narrative of the behind-the-scenes battles between the intelligence bureaucracies of the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, the latter under whose aegis he was gainfully employed for a time before being bitten by the novelist's bug.
With that sense of admiration, I approached the movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy hoping that it would reinforce my respect for this author and the undoubtedly sincere attempt to resurrect his work in an environment that no longer sees the struggle against communism and the Soviet Union as a flash point in today's global struggles.
It is, in effect, a remake of the much-revered adaptation starring the late great Alec Guinness. The moviemakers should have left well enough alone.
Sad to say, I found the movie static, narratively flawed and turgid, and came away wondering why so many talented people had come together to make a movie whose story-telling was so listless, lacking in what-happens-next tension and largely incomprehensible, doubly so to those in the audience who were not familiar with John Le Carre's spy novels.
Of course, I knew in advance that the story was about "moles" in the highest ranks of British Intelligence and the attempt by the George Smiley character, played by Gary Oldman, to uncover the conspiracy for his own personal ambitious ends and what we presume is his underlying loyalty to the cause of Western values.
We know, too, from the actual historical knowledge of British defectors in high places that the reason for their traitorous conduct is a profound disillusionment with corrupt Western values, as opposed to their high-minded view of the communist future, a premise that lost all credence since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early nineties proved it wrong-headed.
And yet, even armed with this knowledge and the expectation of understanding the narrative thrust of the movie, I confess I could not follow the story line presented in this film. The heavy-handed flashbacks and editing choices left me totally confused about who was who and what was what.
Please understand that my personal movie meter is based upon believability of the characters, authenticity of the environment, plot tension, the suspense of storytelling, and the emotional impact of the experience of the parallel world created by the movie craftsmen. I take the position of the average, educated moviegoer who seeks both insight and pleasure from observing a parallel world created for our engagement.
Filmmakers have long mastered the technical ability to create all the necessary props to create the reality of their vision with imagination and authenticity. In this movie, the environment is artfully contrived to represent the world one believes is London and the office environment of British Intelligence and other countries central to the story at the height of the cold war. The background music is, by far, the most compelling element of this film, and would have enhanced the impact the film had on me if I could truly understand what was going on.
Unfortunately, the actual events in this story seemed like watching a chess game play out, but without having any knowledge of the game. You saw the tension in the players' concentration and in their facial language, but couldn't understand any of the moves they made on the chessboard.
I am a stickler for narrative clarity. There was little in this movie. Nevertheless, there is a certain type of moviegoer who believes he or she has broken the code of the filmmaker's alleged profundity while others of lesser insight or intelligence have not the capacity to "get it." This is also an affliction of many movie reviewers, some who have given this movie glowing reviews.
Interpreting the mass reaction of audiences is something you begin to understand after many years of observing movies in dark auditoriums surrounded by other people. There is a kind of silent exultation when a great movie ends and you must reluctantly exit the world created by the filmmaker and his or her large team of colleagues who have constructed the events and environment of this imaginary world. Oddly, some moviegoers will burst out in applause, a baffling but obviously sincere effort to register their admiration and delight in what they have just witnessed.
I am sorry that my conclusion about this movie is so negative, but aside from my personal critique of what I perceive as its flaws, perhaps it is the timing that is the worst enemy of this film's appreciation. The risk of devastating confrontation between the west and the Soviet Union is largely over and all the backroom conspiratorial maneuvering, once so vital and intriguing, is now less compelling as story fodder to engage us emotionally.
Or is it that I am more protective of my time and resent wasting it watching something that induces boredom?
Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections published in numerous languages. Films adapted from his books include 'The War of the Roses,'Random Hearts' and the PBS trilogy 'The Sunset Gang'. He is a pioneer in digital publishing. For more information visit Warren's website at www.warrenadler.com.