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Capone's Art-House Round Up with TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY and David Cronenberg's A DANGEROUS METHOD!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a couple of films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

As I said my interview with Gary Oldman and director Tomas Alfredson (LET THE RIGHT ONE IN) earlier this week, the character of George Smiley has always reminded me of a description I once read of the butler character Anthony Hopkins played in REMAINS OF THE DAY--I may be paraphrasing--"When he enters a room, the room becomes more empty." Smiley (Oldman) has spent most of his career in British Intelligence as a professional observer, barely speaking, doesn't stand out, easy to forget.

In other words, he's the perfect spy. But he has spent many of his years playing the Number 2 man to Control (John Hurt), who opens the film sending one his operatives, Jim Prideasux (Mark Strong), into Hungary on a secret mission to retrieve the name of a mole high up in MI6. The mission goes horribly wrong, and the agent is shot down in cold blood, thus effectively ending the careers of both Control and Smiley, who is expected to go down with his captain.

After this preliminary introduction into TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, based on the classic novel by John le Carre, the film asks the intriguing question, what if a professional background player like Smiley is suddenly put in charge and brought to the foreground. For better or worse, the answer appears to be that we would learn what this man is truly made of, and thanks to a career-best performance by Oldman, that's exactly what happens.

When it is discovered that the story of a mole at MI6 may have some credibility to it and that Control had narrowed it down to four high-ranking officials (played by Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds and David Dencik) as well as Smiley, Smiley is brought back to MI6 to lead the investigation, along with the help of his new Number 2 man Peter Guillam (a fantastic turn by Benedict Cumberbatch), a younger agent who is the perfect melding of soothingly loyal and strikingly menacing, depending on what is required.

The details of the investigation isn't as important to the film as is the way Alfredson captures each character's essence with just a few choice traits, looks and moments. This is especially thrilling when watching Smiley emerge in Oldman's nuanced performance. And there are mysteries about every character that go well beyond which one is the mole. For example, we know that Smiley's wife has recently left him, and as the film unfolds and Alfredson jumps back and forth in time (thanks to some creative editing), we slowly uncover what happened between them.

But the film is also about about a dying bureaucracy during the height of the Cold War, the way the MI6 was so desperate for information about the Soviets that it was willing to throw caution to the wind, it's about how dated technology was slowly being replaced by newer models (not unlike what was happening with Old Guard of the agents themselves). There's a reason this story has stood the test of time, even in this condensed version, but this version is immaculately directed, shot, paced and acted, and to miss it would be a betrayal your whatever country you live in.

That being said, I wouldn't trust any critic's opinion on this film who hasn't seen the film at least twice, especially of they're down on the film. The first time you watch TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, you'll focus mainly on following the dense story; but it's the second time when the film's perfections really open themselves up to you, and you're able to sit back and soak in the totality of the work, especially the glorious performances. Once you've seen it that second time, well, then you'll want to watch it a third and fourth time just because you can.

I don't have a clue how much of what is presented about the professional friendship between up-and-coming psychiatrist Carl Jung (played by Shame's Michael Fassbeder) and the more established mentor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) is true in the new David Cronenberg film A DANGEROUS METHOD, and I don't care. I was too transfixed simply listening to their theories spelled out, take shape, and discounted or embraced to care. Fassbender and Mortensen play these men of medicine and letters talking about sex so perfectly that even the film's flaws (there are several) are fairly easy to overlook.

The deepest problem with the film is not the performance of Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein, a deeply troubled patient who comes to Jung with hopes of being cured and eventually taking up his line of work, perhaps as an assistant. It's the way the character is written that doesn't work as well as it needs to. Knightley is actually somewhat terrifying as Sabina, whose affectations cause her to distort her face and body grotesquely. After discouragement from Freud and encouragement from a somewhat bohemian patient Otto Gross (the truly mental Vincent Cassel from BLACK SWAN), the married Jung begins an affair with Sabina, which include some of her sexual proclivities such as S&M fantasies.

A DANGEROUS METHOD winds through the relationship between the two psychiatrists and Sabina, a coming together and eventual parting of the ways that fractured this branch of medicine from this point forward. I love the way Cronenberg and screenwriter Christopher Hampton (ATONEMENT) weave in the changing times and locations (Vienna and Zurich, soon to be plunged into World War I). The fact that the more renowned Freud is sometimes treated like a lesser citizen because he is Jewish also factors into their relationship peripherally.

Fans of Cronenberg's more overtly horrific or disturbing works may not see much of his touch in this movie, but if you look hard enough, the birthplace of some of his best psycho-sexual obsessions are right there ready to jump out at you. The film is occasionally too dry even for its subject, and it sometimes struggles when Fassbender and Mortensen aren't front and center, but overall A DANGEROUS METHOD has enough going for it to give it a moderate recommendation. Go for the sex talk; stay for the rest of the discussion.

-- Capone
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Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 16, 2011, 2:11 a.m. CST

    Glad to see that Alfredson has apparently succeeded in this

    by Longtime Lurker

    I know he has been around a while, but for many, this will be seen as "only" his second film. Notice that he also brought Hoyte van Hoytema on board. No surprise there.

  • I heard Oldman say in an interview that he would only continue if Alfredson were hired again, so they apparently got on well.

  • Dec. 16, 2011, 3:36 a.m. CST

    So intelligent movies made for adults are now classed as 'art-house'

    by Fortunesfool

    What a fucking sad state of affairs.

  • Dec. 16, 2011, 5:04 a.m. CST

    TINKER TAILOR is disappointing

    by No Respectable Gentleman

    There's an awful lot of goodwill around TINKER exactly because it's (apparently) a movie for adults, but in truth it's a highly inelegant adaptation. One critic put it best: "rushed incoherence". It's also loaded with false notes, like the villain who does eveything -- from making love to his mistress to beating his wife -- with the blinds of his high-rise apartment wide open. That would barely float in some purposely over-the-top DePalma movie ... so what's it doing in this "movie for adults"?

  • Dec. 16, 2011, 5:11 a.m. CST

    I will see anything Cronenberg does.

    by Xenodistortion

    No matter what kind of movie he makes they're always shot well and have great dialog. Throw Viggo in there again and it's sure to be a damn entertaining film. Although when I first saw the title of the film it made me think of the movie Dangerous Minds, which makes me think of that rapper Coolio, which in turn depressed me because nobody should be thinking about Coolio.

  • Dec. 16, 2011, 7:12 a.m. CST

    Glad to see that...

    by Mark Jones

    ...someone else recognises that the plot is merely the surface for what is an impressive character study. Special mention to Mark Strong's touching role as the tragic, betrayed spy who loses everything.

  • Dec. 16, 2011, 7:43 a.m. CST

    Hurt seems like an odd choice for Control.

    by Royston Lodge

    In my mind's eye, I've always imagined Control as preening, pretentious, and bureaucratic. Hurt seems like too much of a bad-ass to fit my imagined version of Control.

  • Dec. 16, 2011, 11:23 a.m. CST

    ... a career-best performance by Oldman...

    by HongKongCavalier

    mighty strong words considering Oldman's resume

  • Dec. 16, 2011, 12:15 p.m. CST

    Gary Oldman is made of win

    by AsimovLives

    And if he finally gets an oscar, it's about bloody time!

  • Dec. 16, 2011, 12:29 p.m. CST

    Much as I like Vigo...

    by CarsonDyle62

    ...he is horribly miscast as Freud. Cronenberg's casting instincts are generally as adroit as they come, but in this case he missed the mark rather severely. I also found the screenplay to be annoyingly on-the-nose. Given the psychoanalytic theme, there's something really perverse about the way in which the characters tell us exactly what they're thinking and feeling every step of the way. If ever a film wanted to be about unspoken subtext it's this one, but A Dangerous Method insists on spelling everything out for us. Dull, dull, dull.

  • Dec. 16, 2011, 3:56 p.m. CST


    by AsimovLives

    Viggo is not thart badly cast as Freud. Watch sone of the photos of Freud as a young man, and he was quite an handsome devil.

  • Dec. 16, 2011, 5:13 p.m. CST

    Should have been called "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, HUH?"

    by Daytripper69

    So wait a minute. I have to watch "Tinker, Tailor..." TWICE to fully appreciate the film? Sorry, but I just don't buy that argument, especially with ticket prices being $13.50 nowadays. Had I known that this was the kind of movie that required multiple viewings to truly understand the plot, I would have waited for the DVD to come out. This really was a frustrating moviegoing experience for me. Thank god I didn't bring a date with me, as she would've killed me. Given the trailer of the movie, I was expecting an adult but entertaining thriller along the lines of "Day of the Jackal" or "Le Samurai," but what I saw instead was a two-hour lateral thinking puzzle which left me exhausted and a little bored. I love and appreciate complex films --- Citizen Kane, The Third Man, 2001, A Clockwork Orange, Brazil, Memento and recently Inception come to mind. And I fully understood the plot for all these films in ONE VIEWING! Isn't storytelling clarity a virtue? I was dissappointed by TTSS mainly because it was difficult to follow. I know there was a pretty cool film in there somewhere, especially with the talent involved, but I felt that the storytelling was jumbled, disjointed and rushed. I couldn't even keep up with character names and motivations, and about midway through the film I stopped caring. Had the film been given a three hour running time to slow down a bit then I might have been able to follow the story. I cannot, in all honesty, recommend this film. As a rental, perhaps, so you can rewatch it however many times you need to, but I would opt for something more entertaining like MI4 instead.

  • Dec. 16, 2011, 9:13 p.m. CST

    I unexpectedly like A DANGEROUS METHOD better

    by CherryValance

    I was expecting... (I just misspelled it "wa sexpecting" lolololol) ... TTSS to be my favorite movie of the year with that cast, but I do think it was unnecessarily slow. And I think people who think they're confused aren't. They just don't know that they know everything because it seems like something that was supposed to happen didn't. The big reveal kinda happened unannounced and I feel like that made everyone go 'huh, wait, wha?' It was all there it just took a long time getting there. A Dangerous Method I thought was really good. I'd give Keira Knightley the Best Actress Oscar right now if it were up to me. I can't believe a story about shrinks was that interesting. Both films are perfect examples of great ensemble acting and yet, the SAG nominating committee didn't choose either of them. Go figure.

  • Dec. 18, 2011, 12:23 a.m. CST

    I really loved both of these moves.

    by fustfick

    Strangely, I watched them back to back one night a couple of weeks ago. TINKER, TAILOR is incredibly rich in detail and, as such, creates a wonderfully paranoid mood that left me on the edge of my seat. Meaning: it's not boring and it's not hard to follow. A DANGEROUS METHOD really took me by surprise. The first half of the movie is almost like a comedy...Keira Knightly's performance is absolutely bizarre, Fassbender's Jung is ridiculously naive, and Mortensen's Freud borders on parody...with a cigar in his mouth for EVERY scene and uproariously frank sexual interpretations for just about every goddamn thing. But with the arrival of Vincent Cassel's hilarious character, some new philosophy is introduced and the movie becomes increasingly dark. And the damnedest thing happened. I found myself really emotionally invested in these goofy characters. Only they weren't so funny anymore...they were sad and angry and jealous and all sorts of confusing human things. And by the end of the film I was really heartbroken. In short, I think A DANGEROUS METHOD is masterpiece.

  • Dec. 18, 2011, 1:02 p.m. CST


    by CherryValance

    I wish I'd had that edge of your seat feeling from TTSS. Now I feel like there's something wrong with me. *sigh* I really wish this had played in a real theater, with stadium seating etc. instead of an "arthouse". I wonder if that would have made the difference for me.

  • Dec. 19, 2011, 1:18 a.m. CST

    TINKER TAILOR was pretty great.

    by justmyluck

    I love the kind of movie with a packed house which slowly goes silent - not yawning or asleep, slowly and totally captivated. Oldman was made for this kind of thing. The cinematography-timing-grading is so low key I can't imagine the home video transfer not ruining its theatrical effect. Apparently there will be more of these.