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Friday, January 13, 2012


The next James Bond movie is in the works and movie audiences will likely be treated to the more familiar beats of the franchise than the last two films offered. Gritty reboots have run their course and the movie industry has begun to reestablish escapism proper. Fortunately, as in the 1990s, enough films will pride themselves on political intrigue and power acting—ala "The Stockholm Affair"—as to keep audiences moderately involved while gushing up and slurping down gummy worms. One such newly released mood-heavy movie is, the playfully titled, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”

Shot almost entirely with long-range lenses to give a not-so subliminal effect of voyeurism, the film also showcases actors looking out windows and other expected, though not entirely condemnable, traits of the stock drama. There is no real love, action, comedy, tragedy or grandeur in the film, but there is plenty of reflection. And still more characters looking out windows. Alfred Hitchcock once said, “drama is life with the boring parts cut out.” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” apparently disagrees, feeling complete confidence in following the mundane, trivial and ridiculous nuances of life.

On some other side of the spy flick-dichotomy, not even a month ago, “Ghost Protocol,” fell back on several action movie cliches previously highlighted by “Team America: World Police.” This doesn’t have anything to do with “Tinker Tailor,” directly, but rather I just wanted it to be said.

“TTSS” (still with me?) is a pessimistic film reflecting on the Cold War era, but I suppose the only other option is to be an absurd comedy. The Cold War made as little sense as any war and was fought as enthusiastically and incompetently as any war before or since. Chief among these egregious regrets would be how the intelligence agencies—British in this particular film’s case—perpetually ran circles around themselves, surviving only by feeding on trumped up paranoia. For decades, politicians on all sides happily obliged the intelligence communities and their bloated budgets because war is good for the establishment and fake war is even better.

Exhibit 2: Jim Gordon (also Gary Oldman) only has a job when Gotham thinks Batman is a problem.

Hey Oldman, you get a leading role for losing your mustache;
you get awards for losing your eyebrows!

As the scenes fade into one another, the layers stack up and the plot becomes a bowl of spaghetti. At a particular turning point, Smiley (Oldman) interrogates one of the possible traitors and brings the man to tears. The deceptions upon deceptions reach a breaking point when every side is giving the other side all of the information to learn the secrets of one another. It’s unfortunate the parties of the Cold War didn’t just print monthly newsletters and send copies to one another. Instead, Oldman just watches his colleague collapse into an emotional fetal position, not far removed from Dean Pelton, crying about how he just can’t say no to anybody’s conspiracy opportunity.

Despite a perplexing ending montage, the film itself doesn’t offer or force any overt summary on its characters or story. Things happen and being a spy is a job with self-imposed levels of stress. I’m not one to say any movie “went over my head,” but I can’t mock anybody who would voice such a sentiment after seeing “Tinker.”

Also, let’s talk some Writing 201 (sophomore year stuff, really). A twist doesn’t work if you force the audience to guess the ending. Crime movies drive me nuts when they start off, “one of these characters is the real killer” and then try having a twist. Invariably, the twist was predicted at some point by every conscious audience member and so no ending can really be a surprise. To a story, the best twists come when the audience doesn’t know there is going to be a twist at all. The plot, the story, the characters all have to be more than just the dots that connect to a pre-conceived ending.

A second element of a twist is understanding that the audience knows certain basic movie rules. For instance, if someone is a big actor, they get a big role. These rules can be broken to powerful effect, but they exist all the same and should be accounted for.

Continuing, the power of the twist is directly related to the number of clues left behind in the movie. If Bruce Willis found out in “The Sixth Sense” that he was really the little boy’s father, that ending would have sucked. There were no clues leading to that point and so “the twist” would have been random, nonsensical or even a cheat (looking at you “Ocean’s 12”!).

Perhaps any point I make regarding story structure is muted when a blog post that gets a few hundred (mostly accidental) views is placed in the shadow of a best-selling novel and award-winning screenplay.

As is, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” only contains fun and intrigue in few and far between portions.

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