A few months ago, Simon Pegg stepped in it by opining that current trends in science fiction and fantasy are possibly infantilizing its audience; that a love of cartoons, comics, and other escapist media are contributing to an immature mindset.
Naturally the internet landed on him with both feet and he clarified his comments later. Personally I can see both sides of the argument, but I’m not really exploring that in today’s post; and as a shy person, I can only imagine how challenging it must be to have to do promotional stuff 25 hours a day and have to “switch on” the moment there’s a microphone in your face. I have days where I can barely order in restaurants and I already know what I want.
Anyway, that social gaff occurred to me during the opening of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy because it is the exact kind of film Pegg was talking about. I was cruising around my queueueueueu and decided to take a break from Stephen Chow movies (4 this week so far!) and hit play.
This film is just amazing. It’s the kind of old-school thriller that I love and secretly fetishize: dudes walk around in sharp suits, smoking, drinking whiskey during their meetings and talking big game while their personal relationships crumble from within, and I would SWEAR that the cast were chosen for their beautiful voices as much as their acting or appearance. John Hurt, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, and (gasps) TOM HARDY basically turn every scene into choral conversations. I wish I knew how to do sound mixing – I’d do dance mixes of them just TALKING.
And talking is what this movie is. I love seeing a spy movie that really captures how deeply boring and uncool government work IS – and yet still captures the enormous tensions its employees labor under at all times. The setting was another twist; I admit my impression of London in the early 70s comes from Laugh-In, James Bond, and (embarrassingly) the Austin Powers movies, so seeing a “Swinging London” that looked about as festive as the inside of a government-issued filing cabinet was a novelty. I loved how drained of color the world of this film was; and even the moments where color should be bright seemed tired and faded. Everything is taking place in offices and the flats of people who have negated all personal interests and personality in service of their country, so of course it would appear drained and drab.
The plot is intricate, and carried by the aforementioned conversations. Often something the viewer is shown is deconstructed later on, so we can’t always trust our eyes. Some things occur offscreen, or are so subtle as to be barely noticeable.
At times I just accepted that I had no idea what was happening and let my impressions be carried by the music score, which must be how a puppy feels on the way to the vet. I had no idea where we were going or why, but was just thrilled to be along for the ride. That’s kind of the point – you need to accept that you know nothing before you can reach enlightenment, and by the end of the film everything was cleared up, plotwise.
As I mentioned before the cast was perfectly chosen. I never would have imagined I’d dig Tom Hardy with feathered 70s hair but today I learned something about myself. His character is part of a romantic subplot, and there’s a scene where he playfully teases his girlfriend by shining a mirror on her face. I am here to tell you that if people could bottle and sell his quiet manly radiance there would be a lot more love in the world. And babies. Probably. Or just sex.
Another facet to the film is the treatment of closeted gay men in 70s London. One character is closeted gay and another is revealed to be bisexual, adding another layer to an already magnificently nuanced film. Characters sacrifice a great deal for their country as I mentioned before, including relationships – and when one character (I won’t say who) has to break up with his partner or risk being outed, his pain is palpable; his was one of the few happy, functional relationships of the film and he has to end it. Other characters relationships are falling apart around them and the one who has managed to cultivate something must set it alight and walk away.
Based on a John Le Carre novel, TTSS is that kind of old-school film that challenges without being obnoxious. I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of thought-provoking political thrillers, taut, reserved performances, and distressingly accurate fashion reproductions. Seriously, Gary Oldman looks like he walked out of somebody’s 70’s era family photos. Put a goofy party hat on him or a kid in his lap and he’s there.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is available on Instant Watch.