herald

Wednesday 23 January 2019

Greater intelligence

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY Drama. Starring Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik, Mark Strong, Kathy Burke, Stephen Graham. Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Cert 12A

One has to admire the bravery of Swedish director Tomas Alfredson in tackling an adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Not only does he have to contend with devoted admirers of John le Carre's 1974 novel, quite rightly hailed as a masterpiece of Cold War espionage fiction, but also the arguably greater shadow cast by the BBC's 1979 dramatisation of the book.

That series, one of the TV high-water marks of the decade, brought Le Carre's characters to life in sensational fashion, particularly so in the case of spycatcher George Smiley who was for ever etched into the viewing public's consciousness with a mesmerising performance by Alec Guinness.

So, no pressure on Alfredson or Gary Oldman, who on the surface seems a most unlikely choice to play the unassuming but extremely wily Smiley.

Well, lovers of the book and TV series can breathe easy as the director and all concerned with this tricky project have emerged with flying colours.

With Let the Right One In, Alfredson showed that he was more than adept at tackling a potentially treacherous literary source and here he and his screenwriters, Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, have made several necessary edits in order to keep the running-time just over the two-hour mark but retained the essence of the raw material, in the process giving us one of the films of the year.



intelligence

Set in 1973, the story is powered by a British intelligence operation in Budapest which goes badly wrong, leading to their agent (Mark Strong) being shot and the subsequent resignation of intelligence chief 'Control' (John Hurt) and his right-hand man George Smiley (Oldman).

When 'Control' dies the minister overseeing 'the Circus', as the warren of offices housing the Secret Service is nicknamed, suspects that there's a Soviet mole operating at the highest level and brings Smiley back in from the cold in order to smoke him out.

That's the story in a nutshell but there's a world of deception and detail unfolded before the viewer as Smiley and his assistant Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) set about their task.

This milieu of slippery, shadowy and frequently sad and broken men couldn't be further from the glamorous picture many of us would have had of the world of espionage, courtesy of the James Bond films.

The grim, workaday reality of spying during the Cold War is brilliantly depicted, with Alfredson's production design spot-on.

Even with such a stellar cast, all of whom excel by the way, the film could so easily have failed had Oldman not nailed the character of Smiley.

Described by Le Carre in the book as "by appearance one of London's meek who do not inherit the earth" you'd be hard pushed to picture Gary Oldman in such a part, but he's unbelievably restrained and utterly believable as a discarded and betrayed man who's relishing his chance to prove his worth.

Beautifully paced, impeccably acted and with a total respect for the viewer's intelligence coming across in every frame, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one to savour. I smell Oscars. HHHHH

THE CHANGE-UP Comedy. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin. Directed by David Dobkin. Cert 16

The posters for the latest addition to the body-swap genre are eager to inform that it comes from 'the director of Wedding Crashers' and 'the writers of The Hangover'. Well, yippie-do to that, but it omits to mention that David Dobkin also inflicted Fred Claus on the world while one suspects that the script for this wretched effort was something Jon Lucas and Scott Moore found stuck to their shoes after a stroll in one of LA's less salubrious doggy playgrounds.

Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) is an underemployed actor who lives like a teenage slacker and is a serial womaniser, while his best friend Dave (Jason Bateman) is a family man with four kids and a responsible job at a big law firm.

One night while taking a pee in a magical fountain during an electric storm (as you do) they wish they each had the other's life and, lo and behold, when the morning comes, so it has come to pass.

We've been down this path plenty of times before but rarely has such a toxic combination of vulgarity and sentimentality been lumped together in the same movie.

Reynolds and Bateman are both capable and likeable actors but the material they've been given to work with here is poor at best and at worst plumbs new depths of vileness.

Leslie Mann (Mrs Judd Apatow, so she's no stranger to scatalogical scripts) gets to play yet another of her whiny women characters, while Olivia Wilde is wasted completely.

An awful and excruciatingly unfunny movie. HIIII

YOU INSTEAD Romantic drama. Starring Luke Treadaway, Natalia Tena, Matthew Baynton, Ruta Gedmintas, Gavin Mitchell. Directed by David Mackenzie. Cert 15A

Feeling a bit blue now that the outdoor festival season has been and gone? Miss the mud, the rain and the damp feeling in your bones from Oxegen and Electric Picnic? Hanker after the, er, unique smell of the toilets after three days of use? Well, fret no more as this low-budget effort from Glasgow film-maker David Mackenzie (Hallam Foe) should spark plenty of memories of wandering around mucky fields with the smell of burgers wafting into your nostrils.

Shot over five days at last year's T in the Park festival in Scotland, this is a likeable enough light romance in which American singer Adam (Luke Treadaway) finds himself handcuffed to gobby British singer Morello (Natalia Tena) by a mysterious 'preacher' and the pair wander around the site for a night, initially hating each other but . . . go on, guess.

Partly improvised by the cast, this is essentially Before Sunrise with portaloos and muck and, at a trim 80 minutes, is a slight but rather sweet indie rom-dram. HHHII

30 MINUTES OR LESS Action comedy. Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swarden. Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Cert 15A

On the basis of this week's releases American mainstream comedy is engaged in a relentless race to the bottom and, while this disappointing effort from Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer isn't nearly as dreadful as The Change-Up, it still relies on the basest of sexually explicit dialogue in a vain effort to elicit laughs.

After his excellent turn in The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg is back in his wisecracking-nerd comfort zone in a haphazard story about a pizza delivery boy who's forced to carry out a bank robbery by a pair of scheming losers (Danny McBride and Nick Swarden) who need the money to hire a hitman.

McBride continues the foul-mouthed schtick which destroyed Your Highness and I must confess that something inside me died every time his big smirking head hoved into view.

Order in a nice pizza and don't waste your money on this unpalatable stodge. HHIII

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