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September 15, 2011 6:33 pm
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was the toast of Venice, and is an early favourite for next year’s Oscars, but this bloodless, bloodthirsty John Le Carré adaptation doesn’t hang together. There is a whodunnit plot with only one plausible suspect, and a crucial eureka moment without a breakthrough to prompt it. The director tries to out-Kubrick Kubrick with a prowling camera and an icy tone – but fails.
The film is a polished, populous, pedigreed affair which wades through MI6 misdemeanours in a 1970s London of Routemasters and three-piece suits. George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is called out of retirement to investigate allegations about a mole high up within the Circus (MI6) – a task which requires him to interrogate a wide range of men with memories.
The cast includes Oldman, John Hurt, and Colin Firth, together with newer indispensables Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, and Stephen Graham. At times, Alfredson takes the emphasis away from thriller dynamics while cranking up the art-house atmosphere – as if, rather than being spies, the characters are just a group of detached and lonely men, staring moodily around sound-proofed rooms, talking gibberish to one another.
Aiming high and missing by a mile is not nearly so commendable as aiming low and scoring. David Dobkin’s comedy The Change-Up has a script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the pair responsible for the first Hangover film, who deliver another winning round of masculine frustration. Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) and Dave (Jason Bateman), chalk-and-cheese best friends since school days, wake up in each other’s bodies. At first it is hell – Mitch cannot bear wearing a suit and being a father, Dave isn’t crazy about starring in a lorno (light porn film).
Then the virtues of the unlived life become more evident. Dave teaches Mitch how to go food shopping. Mitch teaches Dave how to apply hair gel. Mitch comes around to the idea of being a grown-up, while Dave goes on a bender-of-sorts – rollerblading, visiting the aquarium, reading Jonathan Franzen. The body-swap comedy, though hardly a complex formula, always generates a good many scenarios. The writers keep the swift chatter coming, and the stars have a good time assuming each other’s personas.
There is an emphasis on excrement and masturbation, but what limits the film is actually good taste. In travelling their learning curves, the characters don’t do anything they will really regret. Dave’s adventures avoid even the mildest forms of adultery. Mitch comes through for Dave on a big case. We have become accustomed to the fact that US comedies, however foul-mouthed, always turn out to be softies; but it doesn’t get any easier to accept.
30 Minutes or Less shares with The Change-Up a concern – if that’s what you call it – with human anatomy, and bizarrely, a joke about the 1980s comedian Arsenio Hall. Otherwise, they are polar opposites. The film marks the reunion of the director Ruben Fleischer and the actor Jesse Eisenberg, who did such refined work together on Zombieland. Eisenberg does his usual routine of looing worried, snubbed, spurned, indignant, outcast, yet determined through it all, but the director cannot get anything going in terms of rhythm or tone – not that the script by Michael Diliberti makes it easy.
The film belongs to a tricky subgenre, the comedy thriller, which even the Coen brothers have failed to tame. Eisenberg’s character is a pizza delivery boy who becomes the unfortunate victim of a daft plan cooked up by the son of a lottery-winning retired army major and his numbskull buddy. The pair kidnap him, strap a bomb to his chest and demand he calls them once he has procured $100,000. The loot will then be passed on to a hit man who will deal with the army major, leaving his layabout son a fortune. It all goes horribly wrong, with the characters and the audience united in anguish.
I Don’t Know How She Does It, an adaptation of Allison Pearson’s classier novel, features four actors – Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Kelsey Grammar, and Christina Hendricks from Mad Men – associated with a single role. The film, blah from start to finish, is more likely to sour fond memories than shake off old associations. Parker plays a woman whose devotion as a wife and mother is undermined by her job as a fund manager at Edwin Morgan Forster – an incongruous literary allusion. The film employs all the settings and set-ups of the workplace vs homestead comedy. But where’s the spark?
Since his terrific early films, The Last Great Wilderness and Young Adam, the Scottish director David Mackenzie has been a little wayward, but everything he makes has a certain distinction.
You Instead feels like a film between films – indeed, his next one Perfect Sense, is out in a month. At the T in the Park music festival, a pouting, sunglassed US rock star (Luke Treadaway) is, for boring reasons, handcuffed to the mouthy lead singer of a punky girl band. His model girlfriend and the girl’s banker boyfriend tag along, slow to see that they are surplus to requirements. The film shouldn’t work, and for the most part doesn’t; but it left me smiling.
The director Lee Sales, making his debut, doesn’t do anything very impressive, but it’s pleasing just to see young actors wandering through London streets, and George’s predicament is vividly exasperating.
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