Sunday, January 15, 2012

Catching Up With 2011 Double Feature: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Dangerous Method

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

These were two of the films I felt I should see before I made my Favorites of 2011 list, though neither made it. It was more of a just in case thing. Both come from directors whom I admire (though I've only seen one of Alfredson's other films so far) and both feature impressive, super-white casts of people with primarily British accents. So: A good pairing! Unfortunately we went on a weekend, which meant we were reminded that no one in the world knows how to behave like a human being. Like, maybe no one has ever gone to a movie before? Nobody ever taught these people how to handle it? It's too bad, really, when everyone sucks but me.

Based on the famed John le Carré novel that I haven't read (as usual), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy centers on George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a high-ranking member of the British secret service who is forced into retirement. He is convinced by a government official to privately investigate a potential mole, researching the close-lipped inner circle of the service and their agents' actions in the Soviet Union. Of course, the closer he gets, the more intricate and threatening the conspiracy becomes.

Taking a very quiet, gradual approach in its storytelling and preferring to ambiguously imply rather than tell, Tinker Tailor is certainly different than the high-octane thrillers I tend to associate with the spy genre. It takes its time (it really takes its time) to establish characters and their relationships, and rarely wears its emotions on its sleeve, much like Smiley himself. The story itself is too sparse, I think, with not enough time spent on the potential moles for me to care which one it was. Plus Cold War movies set in the 70s or 80s are always sort of hard to take completely seriously, since I know the USSR is secretly unraveling.

The strong cast and thoughtful cinematography make up for my reservations with the script, though. Oldman is able to communicate so much through a look or terse comment, while supporters Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Svetlana Khodchenkova, and Mark Strong offer intriguing performances themselves. Of course I was most excited to see the adorable Benedict Cumberbatch out of his Sherlock role, with an indie band blonde haircut and very sharp blue tie he was looking good. He was also probably the most emotional of the characters, and there is one moment in particular that had me tearing up a bit.

4/5

I feel like the past year has been a time of finally realizing that David Cronenberg is one the coolest directors, as I caught up with a lot of his 80s offerings. I know he flipped some switch and turned away from his crazy body horror-type stuff for more realistic, Viggo Mortensen-based films in the past decade, and that's ok too, just a little less exciting. Based on a play that was based on a book, A Dangerous Method seeks to highlight the relationship between psychoanalyst pioneers Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) through their connections with a brilliant but troubled young woman, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). As Jung helps her to better understand her sexual masochism, he finds his own beliefs (based on Freud's work) shifting, causing a rift in their intellectual partnership.

With a trio of fantastic performances and truly interesting subject matter, A Dangerous Method should have been more easy to like. I enjoyed the stimulating conversations and sexy encounters, but the haphazard pacing (so many years would pass without much warning) and lack of driving force, it's not as engrossing as it could be. I think it should have been either wholly about Jung's relationship with Sabina or with Freud, not both. Still, it's worth a watch for Fassbender's sad eyes and Knightley's truly impressive characterization. Normally I hate her performances but here I think she was quite strong. Also Mortensen's attempt at an Austrian accent is kind of funny, it's mostly just British. At least Fassbender knew he couldn't do it and stayed English.

Beautiful costumes, lovely settings, sado-masochism, and high-falutin' psychological discussions: A Dangerous Method has many things to like, but it doesn't all fit together seamlessly. And it kind of felt like anyone could have directed it- I wanted that Cronenberg grittiness. I really want to learn more about Sabina Spielrein though. Sadly it seems like there aren't many good biographies in print? I'm checking out my new school's library when I get a chance.

3.5/5

1 comment:

  1. Dangerous Method has been on my to see list for a whole. Tinker Tailor was brilliant though, I've written my review and will be posting it soon. Good article Alex!

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