Review: Rocketman (2019)


Saturday night’s alright… : Marv Films/New Republic Pictures

ROCKETMAN is the second musical I’ve really loved this year. Whereas the first, WILD ROSE kept its cowboy-booted feet firmly on the ground, the story of the man formally known as Reg Dwight’s formative years and breakthrough floats off into another plain. This is more rock opera than straight biopic, is appropriately camp and always feeling emotionally connected even as it removes itself from reality.

Elton John’s (Taron Egerton) life from childhood to breakthrough, fame and rehab (and not necessarily in that order) as told through his music.

Taron Egerton is a force of nature in this. Yes, he’s very kind casting for young Elton John even when given happy teeth and a receding hairline, but you really don’t mind after he belts out the first tune. Making his mark in the opening scene as he swagger-staggers into rehab in full stage regalia, he completely metamorphoses into Elton. A few scenes of fairly miserable childhood later Egerto yanks our attention back to him, completely owning the strikingy choreographed musical number to “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”. Bryce Dallas Howard is…leftfield casting for Elton’s mother, but she’s better here than she has been in a long time, with strong support also coming from Gemma Jones and Jamie Bell.

It’s the dramatic license, the liberties taken with the chronology of songs and events that frees the film, that gives it a loose energy. What song from Elton’s entire career conveys where he’s at at this particular moment in life the most effectively? Who cares if it’s one of his later hits that he’s singing as an unloved child (Matthew Illesley)? Very early on in his career we see him don the first of his eye-catching stage costumes and from here on he rarely lets his performance persona slip, entombing his myriad issues behind flamboyance, substances and sex.

Elsewhere when fantasy takes precedent, Elton’s onlookers, in a rather playful decision from director Dexter Fletcher, occasionally appear to notice when we hit the realms of magical realism. Audiences float, Elton rocket-boosts off into the sky, in one dazzling montage he goes through about ten costume changes in thirty seconds as his piano spins and throws off a ring of fireworks.

The film it reminded me most of wasn’t another musical but another biopic of a musician that played fast and loose with perception and how making art can alter it: AMADEUS. Both films only use a great musician’s documented life as a starting point for telling a story that’s interesting, artistically, thematically and emotionally, on its own terms. Both movies get quite surreal to great effect, too.

I know Fletcher probably doesn’t want to be reminded about how he was left clearing up someone else’s mess but it’s only when compared to distinctive projects like this that it becomes clear how far short BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY fell. It was just so mechanical. It didn’t seem interested what made its subject tick, just what he could do. This is the warts-and-all examination of a superstar we want. Sex and drugs and rock and roll and then some.

It’s so fitting that the film’s final musical number is “I’m Still Standing”, complete with Egerton cleverly inserted into the iconic music video. That’s Elton speaking to us on the way out of a bad time on his life. It was also essentially Egerton’s audition piece, he having already performed it as an animated Gorilla in SING.

Rocketman demonstrates mastery of sound, colour and movement throughout, much like Elton himself. This is without a doubt Dexter Fletcher’s strongest film, one of the most engrossing and entertaining biopics around and a feelgood new musical to boot. This is the kind of film that Freddie Mercury deserved. SSP

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Review: Good Omens (2019)


To the un-ending of the world: Amazon/BBC/Narrativia

GOOD OMENS has been a Biblically long time coming. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman seemed to have given up after years of false starts at adapting their 1990 fantasy novel but Pratchett’s terminal illness and Gaiman’s promise to him finally got the project off the ground. Was it worth the wait? As the tenth incarnation of a certain Time Lord might say, “Ohh yes!”.

For the thousands of years since God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and demon Crowley (David Tennant) have been living among mankind, and have become rather accustomed to their creature comforts. That all changes when their superiors in Heaven and Hell announce the end is nigh and the Antichrist will soon be brought forth to do what Antichrists do. But not even the end of the world is simple when the forces of good and evil make one hell of a cockup…

Gaiman adapts his own co-authored work almost to the letter here. All the novel’s witty and mischievous jokes at the expense of religion and human nature are present and correct, though there are of course revisions and expansions. The strongest episode of the series by far is the third, which has a 25 minute pre-title sequence that sees Crowley and Aziraphale entertainingly bumping into each other at various points throughout human history, their fates clearly entwined. We’re also given more of a definitive resolution to their stories than in the novel (more on that later).

Sheen and Tennant aren’t exactly how I imagined Aziraphale and Crowley (also for the record I’ve also been pronouncing Crowley wrong since I read the book), but from their first scene grumbling on top of the Garden of Eden’s perimeter wall all doubts melted away. They are obscenely good together, nudging each other to and fro on the moral line but seemingly the most content inhabiting and hanging out in the comfy grey area in the middle. The cast is bolstered by John Hamm as a sneering blowhard Archangel Gabriel, Michael McKean as a crusty and backwards Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell and Adria Arjona as frustrated modern witch Anathema Device, whose ancestor predicted this whole end of the world thing. Also look out for fun cameos from the League of Gentlemen and Just A Minute’s own Nicholas Parsons (just lost non-British readers there).

The title sequence (by Peter Anderson) with marionette versions of Aziraphale and Crowley walking through an animated version of human history as civilisation rises, falls and heads towards oblivion on a heavenly travelator is something truly special. I’d love a some art in this style to hang on my wall.

Now, the nitpicks. I think Brian Cox was miscast as the voice of Death. Something about his delivery didn’t gel, I think because he comes across as angry and wrathful rather than pragmatic and inevitable. I like the idea of Heaven and Hell appearing as a chic office space and a mouldy tube station respectively, though I wanted something a bit more creative in the designs of the angels and demons in their true forms than suits and sparkles for the divine and suits and sores for the damned.

You could quibble at the effects budget as well, but to be honest Good Omens is a very British thing and wobbly CGI is what we do on TV (have you ever watched DOCTOR WHO?). It’s part of the charm.

It’s a shame, but it’s right that we’ll never get a sequel book or series. A sequel is set up in both versions by the emergence of a second manuscript of prophesies which Anathema chooses not to read in the book, and burns on screen. It’s likely why after we get to the novel’s ending the TV show has Aziraphale and Crowley get called to answer for their perceived crimes, before they both of course wriggle out of any real punishment. That’s the matter closed, and this story ended definitively by Neil out of respect for Terry.

I don’t think it ever really hit me before how closely Aziraphale and Crowley’s friendship echoes Pratchett and Gaiman’s, how the characters’ personalities are so clearly based on them and how they all loved good sushi (though I do remember giving Aziraphale a Pratchett-esque lisp in my head as I read the book).

Good Omens is not a perfect adaptation, but it’s a Very Nice and Accurate one. It’s not likely to convert those not already enamoured with Pratchett and Gaiman’s distinctive shared voice, but it’s a treat for fans, a fitting tribute to Pratchett and an entertaining and quite scarily relevant show in its own right. SSP

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Review in Brief: Loqueesha (2019)

“Official Selection – San Luis Obispo International Film Festival 2019”. Me neither. Five minutes into LOQUEESHA, writer-director-star Jeremy Saville hasn’t started talking like what he thinks black people talk like yet, but he has done a wildly offensive Gandhi impression instead. Apparently if you hang around for long enough in a deserted bar offering asinine advice that makes you sound like the Sphinx from MYSTERY MEN then you’ll be handed your big break. Joe/Loqueesha thinks xenophobia is the same as anthrophobia and/or agoraphobia, and Saville may not know the difference either. They get the only black guy in this (Dwayne Perkins) to say, completely straight-faced, “I don’t know what I’m more impressed by, you as a black woman or your therapy techniques”. Joe later berates a woman (Mara Hall) for not being as good at being black as he is, and she just accepts this. It’s a lazy, self-congratulatory and narcissistic insult of a movie. SSP

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Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)


Someone looks pissed: Warner Bros/Legendary Entertainment

I’m not going to say the general critical consensus on GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is grossly unfair – each to their own. I thought it was halfway decent, but only if I didn’t think about it too much. Come for the monsters, the visuals and some much better performances than you might expect. But is there enough in this whole package to make it worth all the effort?

Five years after titanic nuclear lizard Godzilla surfaced to fight other unnatural monsters, cryptozoological organisation Monarch discover more ancient titans in hibernation around the world. Their research into the creatures’ communication and hierarchy releases Ghidorah, Mothra and Rodan and leaves humanity in need of Godzilla to restore balance before the proverbial reset button on life on Earth is hit.

You probably came for the monsters beating the crap out of each other, and the movie provides. My favourite moment of titanic smackdownage was Godzilla rugby-tackling Ghidorah through a skyscraper. There are four main monsters this time, all drawn from Toho Studios’ back catalogue. ‘Zilla himself, arch-alpha/hydra Ghidorah, hypnotic super-moth Mothra and fiery pteranodon Rodan. They’re all given origin scenes, paired off and smashed together in a variety of entertaining ways…eventually.

The main problem with Gareth Edwards’ film was that the human characters we had to follow whenever Godzilla wasn’t on screen (which was nearly always) were really boring. This time the humans are better, not necessarily because they’re any better-written (they’re not) but that much of the cast really go for it. Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobbie Brown and Ken Watanabe all take their characters on interesting journeys though I can’t say Kyle Chandler and Charles Dance keep up with them by staying firmly within their acting comfort zones. And poor Sally Hawkins! One of the only returning players from last time gets a couple of inconsequential lines at the beginning then isn’t in it anymore.

Usually all I ask for to give a large-scale monster blockbuster at least a pass are a few really memorable images of fantasy creatures doing their thing. While King of the Monsters has frames that are too overcrowded or smothered in CG rain or ash, when Michael Docherty slows down for long enough to look up in awe, we get some achingly beautiful images. Mothra’s bioluminescent descent from the heavens, Ghidorah’s three heads silhouetted against stormy skies…

A special mention should go to Bear McCreary for his sublime score, one I may buy even if I never watch the movie again. It nods to earlier Toho movies, draws from a rich collage of cultural influences and gives everything the right grand and foreboding feel.

Monarch makes little to no sense as an organisation, but I don’t think we’re supposed to overthink them; like SHIELD, they’re just a plot device. Our heroes’ whole plan is cracking a nut with a hammer, or more accurately cracking a nut with a nuke. And then another nuke. I’m not really sure what message we’re sending if nuclear weapons start and end a problem, but whatever. The film doesn’t have much faith in humanity at all, which is in-keeping with the wider Godzilla franchise. Unfortunately any deeper thematic dive is aborted whenever the monsters resume their clash or a human does something really stupid, and both happen often.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a marked improvement on the 2014 reboot but is still a way away from being a truly satisfying movie. Epic monster confrontations and beautiful shot compositions don’t save it from being too long and loose and not quite deciding what it’s trying to say. Big monsters fighting just because is fine. Big monsters fighting as metaphor is better. Big monsters fighting as half-baked metaphor is just frustrating. SSP

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Review in Brief: The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (2018/19)

This might not surprise you given its title, but THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT is a weird creature. But it’s not necessary weird for the reasons you might expect. Aside from an early prop gag and a gross-out moment towards the end it’s played really straight. The tone and performances in the thing suggest serious drama but it never seems to get into much real meat unless it’s all in the nebulous subtext. It’s an old-fashioned good-looking movie with a satisfying Sam Elliot lead performance as he looks to his tall tale past, but I really struggled to get what the take on life, love, duty, old age and sacrifice actually was. Director Robert D Krzykowski could well be one to watch in future judging by how confidently he mounts his first feature, but it’s still a fascinatingly frustrating debut. SSP

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Review: Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)

detective pikachu.jpg

Elementary: Warner Bros/Legendary Entertainment/The Pokemon Company

Is DETECTIVE PIKACHU the best video game movie ever made? Probably. Does it stand up as a film in its own right? Mostly. Sorry if it seems like I’m sitting on the fence with this one but I’m genuinely struggling to tell what % of my view is based on unbridled nostalgia.

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) teams up with a talking Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) and a reporter (Kathryn Newton) to solve his father’s death, leading to a conspiracy that will profoundly affect the human-Pokémon harmony of Rime City.

I was a typical 90s Pokéfan; I played the games, I collected the cards and I watched the anime religiously. The animated Pokémon movies that spun off from the TV show I seem to remember being…OK but I get the feeling if I watched them again now after 20 years they’d be considerably less than that.

Detective Pikachu’s mystery plot is a relatively simple one to solve, but we’re taken the scenic route to get to a resolution. There is a late in the game twist that I’ll admit I didn’t see coming, though when I think back all the clues are in plain sight. Whatever the conspiracy being hatched, the baddie’s grand master plan that needs foiling, really it’s all about Pikachu and Tim’s burgeoning relationship as they work towards a common goal.

I’m going to put this down to the younger target audience (the film has two audiences: 90s kids and children of said 90s kids) but there were a few too many instances of characters stopping dead to explain what was going on and why it’s important. Give us a little credit. You also don’t need to call out every Pokémon glimpsed by name; big and little kids in the audience will doubtless already be doing that.

This is the kind of geek property movie that demands to be rewatched and freeze-framed. There’s so much packed into every shot and half the featured Pokémon (reportedly around 60 of the 800-odd total) are blink-and-you’ll miss them. I loved the production design in general on this movie, from the East-meets-West utopia to the photo-real recreation of some of the technology from the anime, to giving believable life to the little monsters themselves. Seeing how humans and Pokémon live and work together, even fleetingly, is fascinating. It all adds to the film’s texture and makes every key scene in Rime City feel alive.

Aside from all the Poké-cameos, some of the monsters get more extended and memorable appearances. My favourite creature was always Cubone, the skull-wearing “lonely Pokémon” who I was thrilled to see gets his moment early on in the movie. Psyduck is as loveable and bewildering as he should be, purple monkey Aipom is rendered more disturbing than you could imagine, larger monsters Charizard and Gyarados get show-stopping battle appearances and The Mr Mime scene teased in the trailer gets…unexpectedly dark. There’s also a fair bit of imagination to the larger scaled action set pieces which I won’t spoil by describing in detail.

The human performances are a mixed bag. I can’t really tell yet what kind of an actor Justice Smith is yet but I also can’t say that he oozes leading man charisma, though he bounces well off of Reynolds, who avoids being a custard-coloured Deadpool. Far more engaging and complex is Kathryn Newton’s Lucy, who I really wish was the co-lead. Among the veterans we have Ken Watanabe who is always able to lend weight to nonsensical exposition (see also GODZILLA) and Bill Nighy who finds himself halfway between two of his go-to genre film character archetypes.

I had quite a bit of fun with Detective Pikachu, but I can’t guarantee someone with no familiarity with the Pokémon world would get much at all out of it. The story and characters are generic and the script wouldn’t have much memorable about it at all without the affability of Reynolds as the titular yellow rodent. But it’s vivid and energetic and big-hearted and if you’ve got any affection for the 90s craze I can almost guarantee you’ll like it. SSP

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Review: Amazing Grace (2018/19)


Heart and Soul: 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks/Al’s Records And Tapes

This might be stating the obvious but Aretha Franklin had a voice that made you sit up and take notice. I don’t think I’d ever watched extended footage of her singing live. AMAZING GRACE, the salvaged footage of an abandoned concert movie is a fine old re-introduction to the Queen of Soul.

In 1972, at the height of her fame, Aretha Franklin performed two shows on consecutive nights at a Baptist church in Los Angeles. These performances were filmed but die to a combination of technical problems and Franklin’s own demands the footage never saw the light of day, until now.

Watching Franklin’s clearly nervy start to this unique and very intimate show blossom into a controlled powerhouse performance as the music, the faith and the passion take over is spine-tingling stuff. Her performance stands on its own but seeing her audience, and some of her band and the choir backing her completely overcome with wave after wave of emotion seals the deal.

If it wasn’t Aretha Franklin we’re talking about, you might think the host of this low-key, and yet massive event, one Reverend James Cleveland, would steal the show. He’s just such a magnetic presence, pure charisma and divine showmanship. But after Aretha gets over some early show jitters, there’s no eclipsing her. Reverend Cleveland himself, surely the draw to much of his congregation every Sunday has to take a moment to collect himself when the Queen of Soul reaches transcendence in her gospel delivery.

Playing amateur psychologist, I think Aretha and her dad both loved God more than each other, and it got in the way of their relationship. The mood definitely changes when Reverend Franklin is called down to speak and you can see Aretha retreating back into herself. Thankfully that doesn’t last long and before long she’s belting out gospel once more.

I know a lot of the footage wouldn’t have been usable even after restoration and the Franklin estate had a hand in the edit, but I’d have liked to have seen more outtakes in and amongst this wonderful concert recording. There’s this great moment that cuts between a rehearsal with a diva-ish Aretha and her live performance on the same number and a few more of these would have helped round it out as a film.

Speaking of the estate’s involvement, I am grateful they wanted the grandkids and the world to see Aretha at the height of her powers at such a unique event. I do still think it’s slightly disingenuous to claim in the opening title card that it was just technical problems that prevented the film’s release before this year. It was also about how much Aretha was paid and whether it would open doors for her in Hollywood as well.

It’s the little candid moments that add the essential human texture to the experience. We see members of the audience overcome and carried to another plane by Aretha Franklin, who catch themselves going over-the-top on camera then carry on doing what they’re doing because they’re that happy and fulfilled in that moment. Mick Jagger’s there too, looking very out of place.

Amazing Grace doesn’t have the variety of voices to make it a compelling documentary and the quality of footage and filming is a bit patchy. But as a record of a remarkable concert, a time capsule of 1972 and even as an argument for the beauty of faith and art in relation to it, it works wonderfully. SSP

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A Few Thoughts More: Endgame


Time of their lives: Marvel/Disney

The following piece contains major spoilers for AVENGERS: ENDGAME.

Alright, are we all caught up? OK then. Endgame is one of those particularly difficult movies to wax lyrical about (and I intend to) without talking about the specific things you loved. My spoiler-free review still holds true, but I’d dearly like to get a bit more in-depth. So let’s crack on.

That opening gut-punch is a statement of intent. No fanfare, no ceremony or recap. Just a guy on a farm with his family one moment, then he turns and they’re gone leaving only an eerie silence. That guy is of course Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, teeming with pain throughout) and he just died by living when his wife and children didn’t.

Grief affects one person very differently to the next, as demonstrated by the surviving Avengers and their various coping mechanisms. Steve tries to stay positive and help others through the bad times, Natasha overworks herself for the smallest of gains, Tony puts all his energy into starting a family. I thought that they maybe dragged out the fat, wasted Thor gag a little too long, but the highly vulnerable state he finds himself in during his stage of their do-or-die mission results in a particularly tender moment of connection with his mother Frigga (Rene Russo, making me wish she wasn’t screwed over by the THOR movies). It also results in a rare moment of level-headedness and emotional maturity from Rocket (Bradley Cooper, nuanced) when Thor suggests saving Frigga from her imminent demise: “I get that you miss your mom. But she’s gone – really gone. And there are plenty of people who are only kinda gone. And you can help them”.

“I knew it!”. Despite the fact that I rewatched AGE OF ULTRON the night before I saw Endgame and this is 100% set up , I did not expect them to go here. But what a glorious, inspiring moment it is when, just as our heroes need him the most, Captain America catches Mjolnir and goes to town on Thanos. This is the moment of the movie for me, and I’ve yet to see it not prompt a gasp from an audience.

I think most fans suspected time travel would be involved in putting things right. The “time heist” is a great excuse for a trip down memory lane and that conceit of characters ducking in and out in the background of previous adventures is endlessly entertaining, especially when admiring past selves’ posteriors.

That tracking shot at the finale pared with Alan Silvestri’s (the unsung hero of the Avengers movies) soaring score has got me all three times I’ve watched this movie. How the camera gracefully pendulums in and out of the rows of mourners and how everyone (even kid sidekick Harley from IRON MAN 3 *starts crying again*) is there for Tony and for each other in this moment.

They bring Tony and Steve’s stories full-circle in two distinct and differently beautiful ways. Tony finally got himself a real life in the dark times after The Snap before donning the armour one last time to make sure they had a world to live in. Steve survived but felt like he’d never really lived what with the whole 70 years on ice thing so when the opportunity came to go back and experience decades of normality he took it. After being instrumental in saving everyone he finally gets his happily ever after, finally puts himself first.

Side bar – after all the timey-wimey shenanigans, are there multiple versions of these characters running around now in some of these universes? Is that how the Disney+ series are going to work?

Natasha’s final scene which should be heartbreaking has a weird semi-comic scuffle and she and Clint drop, shock and explode each other in an effort to be the first one to die. It was nice that their true feelings for each other were finally acknowledged but the scene lacked much needed pathos because of the tonal wonkiness.

I can’t see a world where Avengers: Endgame doesn’t end up being very high up my year end list. It not only surpassed but smashed my expectations, drawing to a close a decade of the most ambitious interconnected filmmaking and delivering surprises, spectacle and indelible images throughout. It’s a film so tightly packed with goodness you’ll pick up on some new subtlety amongst the big stuff each time. Seeing every single Avenger and their army of allies forming up behind Captain America as he faces down an alien horde alone is a hugely satisfying moment. Arguably just as impactful are moments like an increasingly human ex-baddy Nebula (Karen Gillan, dark horse MVP) tenderly sitting an unconscious Tony up and covering him with his jacket as they drift, hopelessly through space. It’s the little things on a big canvass that make it. SSP

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Review in Brief: Soni (2018/19)

The best thing about Netflix as a service is how it encourages the democratisation of cinema. So many promising new, diverse voices would not have an outlet without the streaming giant. SONI is a hidden gem, and you should all load it up on Netflix right now and watch it. Two female cops in Delhi encounter misogyny to different extents in their day-to-day and deal with it in very different ways. Soni (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan) and her superior Kalpana (Saloni Batra) are mesmerising, empathetic and relatably flawed individuals who refuse to let the bastards grind them down. Most of the film is just us bearing witness to how they handle a series of challenging situations at work and at home, and it’s captivating, thoughtful stuff. The key message, that “They will always try and get the better of you because they know you are stronger than them” is truly one to live by. SSP

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Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)


The art of stillness: Studio Canal/Paradis Films

Oddly enough, despite its 1970s setting, cold grey rooms and tweed, Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John Le Carré’s TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY feels more relevant and connective than ever. Maybe it’s because the modern world we live in is becoming as ridiculous and paranoia-fuelled as it was at the height of the Cold War. Talk about depressing.

The British Secret Service, known by the euphemism as the Circus, has a mole. An operation in Europe has gone very wrong and whoever has infiltrated the Circus is still sending vital intelligence back to Moscow. With every higher-up working in espionage under suspicion, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) comes out of retirement to flush out the enemy agent before any more lasting damage is inflicted.

Alfredson proved his talent for the creeping tension-build and maintaining a chilly atmosphere in his breakthrough LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, and this talent he puts to extremely good use here in bringing to life the emotionally dead world of Cold War espionage.

The casting is faultless, with Gary Oldman delivering the performance of his career as Smiley – he may not say much, but he doesn’t really need to when he’s got the art of communicating through sitting perfectly still and subtly altering his facial expression down to such a fine art. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone taking off their shoes embody such fragile tension. If we’re being picky he’s probably a bit too in shape and full-haired to be Le Carré’s Smiley, but sometimes an actor is able to communicate a character’s essential essence. Others in the film’s huge ensemble cast all have their moments to impress over the course of the film, but the of particular note are Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and John Hurt (the latter of which was once considered to play Smiley, but is much better suited as the cantankerous Control).

Though it’s undeniably an exceptional spy film, where Tinker Tailor really hits the mark is as a commentary on the futility of war. It takes Le Carré’s novel, and aside from a bit of streamlining presents things as they were on the page, with the spy-writer-extroadinaire’s treatise on dying superpowers intact. Every character is on edge as the investigation to find the Soviet mole within the British secret service progresses – the paranoia of the Cold War and threat of an enemy gaining the upper hand is perfectly communicated through subtle characterisation, with every member of the Circus looking as through they’re rotting from the inside out.

Alfredson’s directorial style highlights this near-constant sense of unease, keeping us at arms length from everyone we follow, never allowed to really know anybody. We just look on, helpless, at once-powerful men who sit slowly crumbling in bleak, cold offices and dingy hotel rooms. In a lesser film, denying the viewer to really get inside character’s heads would be a drawback, it would be considered shallow, but not so here. We are given just enough information to make our own judgements on which shade of grey the key players are operating in, about what may be going through the heads of this group of decrepit spies, but not quite enough to plot the exact course the film will take. Smiley is always one step ahead of the viewer in his investigations, and marveling at the way his mind works when all the pieces of the puzzle finally slot into place is part of the fun. I’ve seen this film a few times and read the book but I still always find myself struggling to keep up with his powers of deduction and his leaps in logic.

One question remains after watching the latest and best adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Where’s the followup? Come on, Alfredson, Oldman et al, free up your schedules – we’re waiting with baited breath! SSP

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