Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Focus Features

Rated R for violence, profanity, sexuality and nudity.

It’s Spy vs. Spy in Adaptation of John le Carre Cold War Thriller

Dateline: Budapest, 1973. It is the height of the Cold War and British spy Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) has been dispatched behind the Iron Curtain on a covert, anti-Communist mission. But when the operation is badly botched, and blood is shed, there are consequences back in London at MI6 headquarters where both the head of the organization (John Hurt) and his right-hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), are forced to resign in disgrace.

Yet, it isn’t very long before the latter is secretly rehired by Undersecretary Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney), the member of the Prime Minister’s cabinet responsible for overseeing the intelligence agency. For there is good reason to believe that a Soviet mole has managed to infiltrate the “Circus,” the government moniker for MI6’s highest echelon. As it turns out, Prideaux was in Hungary in search of the double agent whose identity has been narrowed down to one of four suspects referred to by the surreptitious codenames Tinker (Toby Jones), Tailor (Colin Firth), Soldier (Ciaran Hinds) and Poor Man (David Dencik).

Now, it falls to the wily Smiley to match wits with an equally savvy, inscrutable adversary. What makes the protagonist’s task particularly perilous is that he dare not risk suspicion by confiding in any of his contacts inside MI6. Instead, as a lone wolf, he must rely on a combination of a career’s worth of experience and his finely tuned personal radar to attempt to ensnare his elusive prey.

Is the traitor the ambitious Percy Alleline (Tinker), the unflappable Bill Haydon (Tailor), the rough-edged Roy Bland (Soldier) or the officious Toby Esterhase (Poor Man)? That is the proposition posed by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, as spellbinding an espionage thriller as you are ever likely to encounter in a theater.

That the multi-layered mystery proves so intriguing should be no surprise, given that it’s based on a labyrinthine bestseller many fans of the genre consider to be the best spy novel of all time. FYI, author David John Moore Cornwell, aka John Le Carre, who wrote under a pseudonym as required by England of its former agents, makes a cameo in the picture as a guest at a Christmas party.

This adaption is considerably dense compared to the seven-episode miniseries the BBC shot in 1979 starring Sir Alec Guinness. Nonetheless, director Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In) has painstakingly distilled the 400-page opus down to its essential elements while remaining ever so faithful to the source material in terms of tenor and tone.

A well-crafted, harrowing whodunit of Hitchcockian proportions!

Excellent (4 stars).

Running Time: 127 minutes.

 

Melancholia

Magnolia Pictures

Rated R for sexuality, profanity and graphic nudity.

Wedding Plans Take Back Seat To Impending Extinction-Level Event In Apocalyptic Adventure

Justine (Kirsten Dunst) isn’t enjoying her wedding day, much to the chagrin of her flustered, but supportive groom Michael (Alexander Skarsgard). The clinically depressed bride’s spirits aren’t even lifted by the fact that her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland), have thrown her a glamorous reception at their mountaintop mansion with a view.

And when Justine takes a break from the festivities to lie on her back and peer into the night sky, it doesn’t register that the unusually bright star overhead might be a rogue planet on a rendezvous with Earth. She just rejoins the party, only to be so overwhelmed with unhappiness that she soon decides to break off the marriage.

That gloomy scenario sets up the unsettling second act of Melancholia, a morose meditation on mortality directed by Lars von Trier. The Danish director follows that opening segment “Justine,” with a closing tableau called “Claire.”

As part two begins, we find Justine single again and living with her sister’s family. She takes little comfort in astronomer John’s assurances that the approaching, oversized asteroid Melancholia will miss but not make impact, since the leading scientists agree that it’s on a collision course with Earth.

Soon, however, the script is flipped with Claire becoming depressed due to an inability to handle the idea of annihilation, especially because she has the responsibility of allaying her young son’s (Cameron Spurr) anxiety. Then, when her hubby inexplicably disappears, that all but confirms her worst fears, and it falls to Justine to summon up the courage to comfort the boy while facing their fate with grace and stoicism.

It’s impossible to guess what the end of the world might look like or how you might behave, but this alternately surreal, seductive and sobering descent into dystopia is as good a guess as anybody’s.

Excellent (4 stars).

Running time: 130 Minutes.

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

 

For movies opening December 16, 2011

 

Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (G). Animated adventure finds Alvin (Justin Long) and company running amuck on a luxurious cruise ship only to end up stranded on a tropical island after being accidentally being tossed overboard. Voice cast includes Jason Lee, Matthew Gray Gubler, David Cross, Anna Faris and Alyssa Milano.

 

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (PG-13 for drug use and intense violence). Guy Ritchie directs this international crime caper in which the renowned sleuth (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his loyal sidekick, Dr. Watson (Jude Law), match wits with their archenemy, the intellectually-intimidating Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). With Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams and Eddie Marsan.

 

Addiction Incorporated (PG-13 for brief profanity). Whistleblower documentary about Victor DeNoble, the corporate scientist gone rogue whose damning testimony before Congress singlehandedly exposed the tobacco industry’s deliberate efforts to make cigarette smoking as addictive as possible.

 

Carnage (R for profanity). Roman Polanski directed this class-conscious drama set in Brooklyn but shot in Paris about two couples (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) who decide to talk after their sons (Elvis Polanski and Eliot Berger) are involved in a schoolyard brawl. With Nathan Rippy, Tanya Lopert and Julie Adams.

 

Cook County (Unrated). Prodigal Papa drama about a recently-paroled ex-con (Xander Berkeley) who returns home to mend his relationship with his estranged teenage son (Ryan Donowho) only to discover that the boy’s uncle (Anson Mount) has turned the place into a meth lab teeming with addicts. Support cast includes Polly Cole, Makenna Fitzsimmons and Yankie Grant.

 

Corman’s World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel (R for violence, nudity and profanity). Reverential biopic about Roger Corman, the legendary B-movie director who helped launch countless film careers, including those of Jack Nicholson, William Shatner and Robert De Niro, while cranking out a never-ending string of low-budget offerings. With appearances by Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Pam Grier, Peter Bogdanovich, Peter Fonda and Ron Howard.

 

The Pill (Unrated). Better-late-than-never comedy chronicling the efforts of a confirmed bachelor (Noah Bean) to get a girl (Rachel Boston) he just shared a one-night stand with to take the Morning After pill. With Anna Chlumsky, Jean Brassard and S. Lue McWilliams.

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