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Entries in Colin Firth (2)

Friday
Dec162011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

One of the things we critics like to do—nay, must do—is watch movies from a different perspective. Sure, in the end, it really boils down to whether or not we were entertained by a movie, but it’s not as simple as saying one is good or bad. We have to explain why it’s good or bad. We have to look at things a normal moviegoer wouldn’t, like shot composition, art direction and cinematography. When we watch a performance, we have to explain what makes it so great or why that actor should be in some other line of work. We have to give points to a movie that is well made, even if it bores us to tears. That’s why, in the end, I’ll be recommending Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but I never, until the day I die, want to see it again.

When the film begins, British Intelligence agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) is on his way to Hungary to gather vital information from a Hungarian general, but things go wrong and he is shot and captured by the Soviets. Back home, after the attention from the incident escalates, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is forced into retirement. However, there is suspicion of a mole in British Intelligence who is leaking secret documents to the reds, so the head of intelligence, Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney), decides to pull Smiley out of retirement and tasks him with finding the traitor.

Credit much (no, all) of that plot synopsis to Wikipedia because Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one confusing movie. Little is outright explained in it and unless you’re familiar with certain British secret service terminology (it took me close to an hour to realize that when they talked about “The Circus” they were referring to themselves), you’re likely to get lost. From its opening frame to its closing moments, the film boggles the mind, which is both good and bad. In a way, it’s great to see a movie that refuses to dumb down its material, but at the same time, it’s far too convoluted for its own good. It’s one of those movies that probably makes perfect sense if you’re paying close attention, but it’s so slow and drags for so many long stretches that such attentiveness is impossible. Those who have never had a problem focusing on something may begin to come down with a temporary ailment of ADD.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a tale of espionage and government control that is inherently interesting, but it’s handled in a slow, uninteresting manner, similar to something like The Lives of Others, another movie that was artistically well made, but needed to pick up the pace a bit (but at least it wasn’t confusing). Still, one can’t deny the skill that went into this film’s production. It’s shot and directed extremely well and the acting is affecting, though I’m not quite sure it’s awards worthy as many are suggesting. If walking around silently and never smiling makes an Oscar worthy performance (which is precisely what Gary Oldman does for two hours straight), then grumpy uncles and grandparents the world over should take up acting.

The best performance in the film comes from Tom Hardy, who dazzled in last year’s Inception and one of this year’s best, Warrior. Once again, he is proving himself to be more than worthy of attention. With that said, despite a plethora of performances that range from good to great, there’s a disconnect between the characters and audience. No reason to care about what is happening is ever given. The connate mystery of such a story is certainly intriguing, but it’s not enough to make the audience feel anything. I may not have always understood what the characters were saying, but more importantly, I didn’t care. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy just isn’t appealing in any way other than the appreciation it will surely garner from film buffs. I’m one of those film buffs so I recognize its strengths, but even the thought of watching it again makes my eyelids heavy.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy receives 2.5/5

Friday
Dec172010

The King's Speech

When December approaches, critics begin to put together their best of the year lists. I personally start early to ensure that I’ll have it done by my own set deadline. But just as I’ve become comfortable with my list, a new movie is screened that puts a kink in my plans. It sets me back, but I’m happy to oblige for a film that is truly worthy. The King’s Speech is this year’s setback.

The film takes place in the mid-30’s and follows the rise of King George VI (Colin Firth) as King of England after the death of his father. At a troubled time in world history, during the ascension of the Nazi threat, King George VI is forced to take to the airwaves and deliver necessary wartime speeches, but there’s a problem. He has a terrible speech impediment that is enhanced when he reads. Wishing to help, his wife, Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), seeks out the help of local speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) who makes it his goal to work with the new monarch and help him become the voice of England.

The King’s Speech is masterful, a rousing drama that is as captivating in the first frame as it is the last. I hesitate to label it a British period piece because I fear readers may immediately write it off as a bore, but don’t be fooled. This is as good a movie as has been released all year. It features dazzling cinematography, a wonderful screenplay that flows with the greatest of ease and three central performances that are all, in their own way, worthy of accolades. This is a multi-Oscar contender and whatever it wins, it deserves.

The eye-catching shot composition is the first thing you’ll notice as you sit through this wonderful movie. As some incredibly smart people once told me, every shot should tell a story and in that regard, The King’s Speech tells many great ones. The contrast between backgrounds that rest behind certain characters tells much about them. In one early scene, King George VI sits on a couch that is pushed against a wall that is seemingly old, dilapidated and unpleasant on the eye. Its decaying outer skin, however, is the only part you can see. You can’t see the steadfast support beams dutifully holding up the building. Just like that wall, people look at the new king and see only what he has on the outside, bumbling articulation and excessive anxiety. They don’t see the strong, passionate man underneath. It’s a striking metaphor and the movie is filled with them.

If there’s one complaint I can levy towards many films these days, it is for their superfluous nature, throwing scenes in where they are not needed. The King’s Speech avoids this issue entirely. Its pacing is pitch perfect and its nearly two hour long runtime goes by in the blink of an eye. While the scenes not involving the witty back and forth between King George VI and Lionel are less interesting by comparison, they’re still wholly compelling. Not a single one feels unnecessary or out of place.

Of course, even the greatest films have small problems, but any that existed in this one went under my radar until the very end. To say why would be spoiling it (though this is based on real events so you should know it already), so let’s just say that the fact that the country was about to head off to war seemed less important to the characters than the king’s diction, which caused some strange discomfort inside me.

But this story isn’t about the war; it's about the courage and determination of King George VI. It’s hard to fault it for picking a focus and staying on it because every facet of The King’s Speech is meticulously crafted. From the funniest of jokes to the soberest of drama, this is an all around marvelous movie. It may be set in the 30's, but it doesn't get bogged down in old timey rhetoric and even if you are someone who has yet to enjoy a period piece, I guarantee you’ll enjoy this one.

The King’s Speech receives 5/5