Friday, January 13, 2012

tinker, tailor, soldier, bore

My return to Mexico is at hand.  Five days.  That seems soon to me.

Before I leave, I am trying to shoehorn as many movies as I can into my schedule.  On Wednesday night it was Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy -- based on John Le Carré’s 1974 novel.

Anyone who knows  Le Carré’s novels will immediately see the problem of bringing a Cold War thriller about Soviet infiltration of MI6 to the screen in 2012.  For most filmgoers, the plot seems no more immediate than the Tudor succession.

But a stale plot line is not the greatest hurdle in translating what was a good read to the screen.  Le Carré’s novels are like chess matches.  Intricate.  Cerebral.  Inevitable.

There are no explosions.  Or car chases.  Only the most subtle of gun play.  All quite British.

But they are far more suited for legitimate theater than the cinema.  Like all thrillers, the enjoyment is trying to figure out where the plot is going before the author tells us explicitly.  And what we will learn about the human condition on the trip.

And that is one of Le Carré’s weaknesses.  He is still peddling his moral relativism to whoever will listen to him.  The west is no more moral than the Soviets.  Or the Iranians.  Or the [fill in whatever nation you like].  The same type of world weariness that led British aristocrats and American Ivy Leaguers to sign up on the KGB payroll.

That is not to say that the film is not worth seeing.  The cast is filled with some of Britain’s best actors: John Hurt, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Kathy Burke.

Watching Oldman bring George Smiley to life is worth the price of admission.  Like a chess master, he compartmentalizes professional shame and cuckoldry with a slight tic.

But more than anything, the film is boring.  Piecing together the plot is every bit as easy as figuring out an Agatha Christie thriller (at least those where she did not withhold all of the clues until the inevitable parlor scene).

And admiring the acting can only go so far with Le Carré repeatedly serenading us with his “We all deserve to die” aria.

What made the experience a pleasure was the theater we chose.  Cinetopia in Beaverton.  A local attorney had a dream of building a multi-plex theater with high quality sound and the type of special experience people recall from the golden era of movie theaters.

And it works.  The theaters range from giant auditoriums to small movie parlors with sofas and club chairs.

But the true quality is in the sound systems.  I have never heard such natural sound in a movie house.  Once I thought I heard water running behind me.  It was merely a strategically placed speaker reproducing well-engineered sound. 

Plus the films are digitally projected in amazing high definition.  Tied together, the full experience was better than IMAX.

So good that we are planning to make a return visit on Saturday to see The Iron Lady.  That should just about wring the Cold War out of me before I head off to Melaque.


Roni_smith said...

I enjoyed the movie a great deal.  It was full of the moral relativity that we find in the world at large.  I was not bored during the movie, but then I went through many years of graduate education that may have inured me to boredom

I wish there were many more movies like it :)

I have liked the George Smiley character for a long, long time.  Going to have to re-read the books now.

Steve Cotton said...

I usually find that when I pay attention to sound and picture quality, my mind has wandered from the story. I liked the novel because it was cerebral -- the virtue that makes filming almost impossible. Even with the flawed tale, Oldman's acting was superb. It is nice to see him acting in demanding roles instead of some of the popular work he has been in recently.