Johnny Rivers, "Secret Agent Man"

>> Sunday, February 12, 2012

The ScatterKat and I went to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy yesterday, and I thought about writing a review, or trying to, but it seemed a bit more of a challenge than I'm feeling up for, so here's Johnny Rivers miming "Secret Agent Man" on some '60s music show, instead.

Well; I'll say this about TTSS: I liked it a lot, and ScatterKat liked it. She found it enjoyable to watch though hard to follow; I can see that, as I found it enjoyable to watch and was able to follow it mainly because I just read the book a few weeks ago, and so could say to myself, "Oh, yeah, it's that guy!" a lot. TTSS is brilliantly acted and it's beautifully shot; the entire cast, led by Gary Oldman, really is magnificent, and director Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In, one of the best vampire movies ever made) has a brilliant eye for the grittier side of the 1970s.

I think TTSS is absolutely worth seeing, but there is a sort of inevitable problem with it: John le Carré's novel is just brilliantly dense in its tense plotting, although much of the actual action in the book consists of an old fat man (George Smiley, played as an old thin man by an extraordinary Gary Oldman) sitting around interviewing people and reading files while reminiscing in his mind. ScatterKat and I will be watching the 1979 British miniseries soon (I recently bought it on DVD; I've heard Alec Guinness is incredible in it), and I imagine a six-hour version of the story has time to get into the plot's windings and the nuanced relationships between and among the various characters. The film version is stuck with a reasonable running time, though I sort of hope maybe they shot enough during production to do an epic-length director's cut for DVD, thus stickier bits of plot get smoothed out and some of the vital character interactions are reduced to shorthand and quick sketches. I don't think that makes the film easy to follow, unfortunately, and I suspect if you go in having read the book or seen the miniseries, you'll get a lot more out of it. And this is an unfortunate caveat if you haven't read the book or seen the miniseries, because Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy is absolutely worth seeing on a big screen and immersing yourself in a dark, silent theatre for (where all the fine details packed into every shot and scene can really register), and because, although it's early in the year, I have a suspicion TTSS will make any shortlist of the best movies you could have seen this year. Even if you have a hard time following it, and you might, it's just such a damn well-made movie.

Another thing re: the previous paragraph: saying the movie streamlines, simplifies or reduces is generally a criticism, but one of the impressive things about the TTSS screenplay is that, first of all, they actually did a stunningly good job of keeping all the major beats from the novel and even work in little details and scenes that I would have been certain they would have cut; and, second of all, that the changes they make largely work and/or aren't that troublesome (especially picky spycraft enthusiasts may wonder how Control, played by John Hurt, ever got away with taking so much of his work home with him, but it's a really good scene in the movie and it ticks along so well, you might not even scratch your head bemusedly over it until you're on your way home; I also can't mention it without also mentioning that having Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) cover his nose with a handkerchief in obvious disgust over god-only-knows what kind of musty old crank smell has infused the place is one of the best touches I've ever seen in a movie--given that people in movies tend to only have two senses, and often aren't even able to use those to see and hear what's on the same scene they're in).

Anyway... hm. I've possibly written a review of Tinker, Tailor after all. Well. Keep the video anyway. Cheers.


Carol Elaine Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 2:20:00 PM EST  

HotScienceGuy and I are currently watching "Secret Agent" via Netflix - thanks for the video! He's finally heard the song I keep complaining is never played fully on the DVDs.

I definitely want to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Not just for Gary Oldman - who is simply awesome - but also because Benedict Cumberbatch is in it. I do loves me some Benedict Cumberbatch. Now that I know the director of Let The Right One In directed this, I'm even more inclined to watch it.

Eric Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 4:05:00 PM EST  

I adore Danger Man a.k.a. Secret Agent. Patrick McGoohan = win.

Jeri Monday, February 13, 2012 at 1:34:00 PM EST  

I can't speak to the movie part of your post but find it horrifying that I can sing along with that video after 46 years. I bought the 45 and played it over and over and over and over. Johnny Rivers is taking up valuable brain space, which seems to be coming harder and harder to come by in my dotage. PURGE! PURGE!

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