First off, get down there and read the Sarah’s Double Feature post. I’m a little nervous about this and definitely unsure about how often this will happen in the future, but I couldn’t agree more with her takes on both Ides of March and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. As I was reading her reviews of both films, I was thinking that there wasn’t much to add, really. But when she mentioned I should add my $.02, I figured I’d go ahead and do so. Not so much because I can shed a better light on these movies than she did, but because I was so thrilled that she thought my opinion was worth a full $.02.
Ides of March is definitely worth a rental or stream, despite its flaws. Right up front, the ultimate problem for me was that this is a movie that is as cynical as it gets. There really are no redeeming people working in politics? None? Even as a narrative tool, this is a pretty bleak world view and while this was the world the characters live in, watching a film where no one has a moral center ultimately leaves a little bit of an empty feeling. Director Clooney vacillates between a movie that could have been a reasonably cracking drama about the world of politics (a step or two below something like The Insider) and a what’s around the next corner thriller. The drama parts mostly work, the thriller parts mostly don’t. Cliches and obvious plot twists abound. As Sarah says, of course Clooney sleeps with the intern. Of course everybody on both sides of the political aisle stab everyone else in the back constantly. Of course politics is just a game where ambition always trumps virtue. And of course they all cash in in the end no matter what happens. Having said that, for the acting alone this film is worth a view. It says all I can say about Ryan Gosling that he was brilliant in this movie and it was still only his third best performance of the year behind Drive and Crazy, Stupid, Love (a poor movie that was mainly held together at all by Gosling). Clooney’s role was tailor made for him. Philip Seymour Hoffman (watch for his closing scene with Gosling to sum up the view of politics this film basically has) and Paul Giamatti, Giamatti especially, gleefully chew scenery like starving woodchucks. And I mean that as a compliment. Plus, in a film dominated by men, Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei more than hold their own. Tomei, in particular and as always, adds a ton more than you might expect playing a journalist digging into the unfolding drama. Tomei’s character’s interactions with Gosling in many ways were the best parts of the film, perceptively portraying the you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours way the press and political candidates use each other to get what they both need. My only beef with the way that was played is that Tomei somehow seemed to be the only reporter covering Clooney’s run for the presidency on a daily basis. This was a minor point but one that distracted me throughout. All in all, completely agree with Sarah. Worth a rental, not more than that.
I also agree with Sarah on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. One of the better thrillers you’ll see, of films in recent years Tinker, Tailor is sort of loosely comparable in style to Munich. As the movie opens, you’re instantly transported back to the Cold War, and you can feel the 70s style film making ready to roll. And for me, the excitement grew as the characters are introduced in the first 10 minutes or so and you ride through a series of “Hey, it’s that guy” moments, which will have you rubbing your hands together and settling into your seat with anticipation. The acting and writing in Tinker, Tailor, as opposed to Ides, is smart, restrained and pitch perfect. This is, after all, a world where every character is hiding something while pretending not to. It’s easier said than done, I think, to effectively write a screenplay that reveals to the audience what we need to know while the characters continue to hide things from each other, especially when the characters are talking to each other as much as they do in Tinker, Tailor. In a way, I suspect it was easier for John le Carre to write the book than it was for Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan to adapt it all into a two hour movie. I really can’t say enough about the job they did to make it all work so well. Because of that, if you’re the type of person that likes to try to “figure out” the puzzle of a great mystery as it unfolds, a little advice. Don’t. At least not while watching Tinker, Tailor. Spend time trying to solve things and you’ll miss out on the joys of the brilliant writing and clenched, protective performances of the sensational ensemble cast. Kudos go out to Colin Firth, Toby Jones and Ciaran Hinds as key British operatives. Tom Hardy gets to play the one character who unhinges under the pressure cooker of the closed world, but he doesn’t overdo it. And Svetlana Khodchenkova shines in a relatively brief, but crucial role as a player on the other side. But it is Gary Oldman, finally getting his Oscar nomination, who is the glue that ties it all together. Stoic, subtle and thoughtful, Oldman’s performance is spot on at showing us little but telling us what we need to know when we need to know it. You can’t “see” him thinking, but you know darn well he always is. Oldman’s one showy scene, a moment where he bonds with his young assistant by letting his hair down with a few drinks and revealing that his control is as much a coping mechanism as anything else in a double dealing world that even a man as competent as he can’t keep up with, is riveting and electric. As Tinker, Tailor slowly turns over its cards one by one, you’ll smile to yourself as you realize why you love the movies. A must see and, by the way, a travesty that it was not nominated for Best Picture.