Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Is this the conference room at the heart of British Intelligence or a middle rung in Dante's hell?

During the height of the Cold War, a botched extraction in Budapest forces the head of British Intelligence (John Hurt as Code Name: Control) to resign, and “The Circus” goes through a house cleaning.  Not content with a forced retirement, veteran spymaster George Smiley (Gary Oldman, in a devilishly subtle performance) becomes determined to weed out the alleged mole at the top of The Circus.  It slowly becomes clear that Smiley is involved in a master chess game against a Soviet counterpart named Karla (who remains mysteriously just off-screen) – a man he failed to turn years earlier and who knows Smiley’s one weakness.  The biggest mystery isn’t the identity of the mole but which of these master craftsmen in the world of espionage is going to pull a check mate on the other.

Ah, John le Carre – no one does wearisome white-knuckle ennui quite like the anti-Ian Fleming and successor of Graham Greene in the foggy world of thinking men’s spy novels.  Think of this new film adaptation of his 1970’s classic, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (representing the code names given to those under watch) as The Usual Suspects for senior citizens.  Continue reading

Melancholia, Marriage and the End of the World

Lars Von Trier’s epic ode to depression and the end of the world – perhaps one and the same – opens with Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan and Isolde playing over a series of breathtaking, beautiful and perfectly composed shots that at first appear to be stills until you realize they are moving in ultra slow motion.  With the hauntingly operatic music full of swooning lilts and gasping rises into the stratosphere, Von Trier symbolically (and in some shots literally) transmits what we are about to experience.  The slow motion represents the trudging through emotions while the music elicits thoughts of a great tragedy about to befall us all.  And then boom! – he lays all of his cards right on the table as we watch in simultaneous horror and joy as two worlds collide.  It’s an eerily quiet yet emotionally bombastic counter action to Terence Malick’s creation of the universe sequence in The Tree of Life.  Both films, operating at opposite poles and giving us glimpses into the vast outward expanse of human imagination through the precipitous downward spiral into the mind and madness of one, are miraculous masterpieces.

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