Off the trail: Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)

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Meek’s Cutoff has an esteemed cast, an original premise, and laudable goals. All of this is obscured, however, by the approach director Kelly Reichardt took in making it. As a story about settlers struggling to reach Oregon, the film concentrates far too much on the drudgery and frustration of the experience, severely trying the viewer’s patience.

The settler party is led by Solomon Tetherow (Will Patton) and guided by Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood). Despite Meek’s inability to find fresh water, let alone a trail, only Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams) is able to express her lack of faith in the mountain man. When the group captures an Indian (Rod Rondeaux), the group must decide whether or not to put their survival in his hands.

Meek’s Cutoff’s overriding theme is the lack of agency given to women in this historical place and time. Conversations between the men are filmed from a distance, the sound low, while the women watch. At a crucial point, the men vote on a decision and exclude the women (who work as hard as the men) as a matter of course. Emily refuses passivity, however, taking action wherever possible. She can handle a gun and challenge Meek in an argument. She repairs the Indian’s shoes to try and obligate him to her. Eventually, she will have the final say over the Indian’s life.

In all of this, Meek’s Cutoff is an intriguing film. More intriguingly still, it keeps the race relations involved in this situation complex and on edge. Emily may need the Indian, but that doesn’t stop her from having contempt for him. Meanwhile, his trustworthiness remains in question. Some of his dialogue, when translated, gives clues about his intentions, but even then, we don’t know if this is a true alliance.

The film has little dialogue, distancing the viewer. Scenes that give further background to the characters appear briefly in a making-of featurette, but most of these did not make the final cut. Many scenes simply show the settlers walking, with a wagon wheel emitting a continual, irritating squeak.

Meek’s Cutoff has a strong sense of realism, and this sometimes adds to the storytelling. When Emily first sees the Indian and shoots into the air to summon the men, the time it takes her to reload adds tension to the moment. Similarly, the process whereby the settlers belay their wagons down an incline is painfully slow and difficult, with the cost of failure high. This is as exciting as Meek’s Cutoff gets, however. Want to watch the likes of Williams, Greenwood, Shirley Henderson and Paul Dano cook, sew and move wagons about? That’s mostly what this film is.

The viewer’s time could be paid off if the film had a conclusive ending. Conversely, its final ambiguity could be worthwhile if all that proceeded it had some sense of dynamism. As it stands, however, Meek’s Cutoff offers little reward and leaves a sense of wasted possibilities.

Silent but not deep: The Silent War (Felix Chong & Alan Mak, 2012)

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The Silent War takes place during the conflict between the China Republic Government and the Kuomintang in the 1950s. Despite the massive team and extensive equipment at their disposal, espionage unit 701 somehow can’t track down enemy mastermind “Chungking”. They need the aid of a blind man, He Bing (Tony Leung), who has a superhuman sense of hearing. This plot veers into improbability and spoils the period drama that The Silent War seemed initially to be.

The actual espionage in this film is complicated and, at times, surprising and quite gripping. I had to pay close attention to keep up with unfolding events and even with the subtitles (something that rarely happens). However, the character of He Bing is just silly. His Daredevil-esque abilities cheapen the feats of intelligence and bravery that other characters possess. Scenes where he intently listens to enemy signals are sensationalised through camera swoops, slow-mo, and overlaid images. His “eccentric” japing around also isn’t funny in the slightest. Leung is fine but not notable in the role.

Almost everything good about this film comes from Zhang Xuening. She’s a totally dedicated operative, played with great restraint and subtlety by Zhou Xun. The pointless love triangle in which Xuening deflects Bing’s attractions (and subsumes her own feelings) by pairing him up with decoder Shen Jing (Mavis Fan) is only made watchable through Xun’s performance. Not to mention, her fashion sense is impeccable throughout. It remains puzzling, however, that Xuening can ascend to the leadership of 701, and still pursue solo missions that put her out on the front lines…

Aside from Xun, the costuming, and the plot twists, there’s not much else to like about The Silent War. The pace is a crawl for most of its middle. The overall context of this conflict is ignored. Even the Kuomingtang’s dastardly goal is only revealed a little before the end. The film could have benefited from having some le Carré-style cynicism and subtlety in its approach to this inherently low-key espionage – but given that Chinese cinema now plays a duel role of propraganda, that was never going to happen.

Coogan’s revenge: The Trip to Italy (Michael Winterbottom, 2014)

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Five minutes into this followup to 2010’s The Trip, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are discussing the merits of sequels. This conversation turns out to be not just a typical Winterbottom post-modernism,  but also a shifting of blame. Of course you’re not going to like this as much as the original. What did you really expect? The Godfather Part II?

This miniseries-turned-film follows the same formula as the first: Coogan and Brydon (playing versions of themselves) drive through some beautiful scenery and periodically eat beautiful food. They jab at each other’s weak spots, engage in ever deteriorating and escalating bouts of impersonations, and occasionally overcome (or compensate for) their petty natures by connecting with art and history.

If there’s a significant change from the first film, it’s that Coogan doesn’t come across as so sad and lonely here. The Trip ended with him alone in his London apartment while Brydon, seemingly the less successful man, returned home to his wife and child. This one ends with Coogan spending time with his son and planning their future, while Brydon ponders whether or not to continue the adulterous relationship he’s started. Brydon is now the one who’s aiming for a part in an American film, but he also seems far more mean-spirited and insecure.

For the most part, The Trip to Italy is bland and unexceptional. The recurring Alanais Morrisette songs during driving scenes don’t lead to any good jokes, which is a big problem if you’re not a fan of her music. There’s no sense of increasing tension between Coogan and Brydon, and the abrupt ending is emblematic of the film’s lack of direction.

Great comedic bits are few and far between, though they are notable. The impressions are nowhere near as funny this time around, but a slip up during Coogan and Brydon’s inevitable approximations of Michael Caine does lead to laughs (perhaps because it feels accidental). Another moment fits into the character developments of the film: while regarding an encased Pompeii victim, Brydon self-aggrandisingly launches into his small man in a box routine, and Coogan walks away in disgust. Our exasperation at Brydon pays off; Coogan’s expression when he returns and realises that Brydon is still going, without an audience, is priceless.

Any potential for a sequel to The Trip lay in making use of the real life changes in Coogan and Brydon’s careers. Coogan had two successes in 2013, making a return as Alan Partridge (a role he seemed tired of in The Trip) and also producing, writing, and starring in the Oscar-nominated Philomena. Incorporating this into the film could have expanded the ruminations on self-worth and true achievement seen in The Trip. The Trip to Italy does tip our opinions of Brydon on their head, but doesn’t work hard enough at making this much more than an uncomfortable surprise.

The original Trip miniseries was superior to the film, and yet the film still felt stuffed with excellent jokes. That’s not the case here. Anyone new to the sequel would have to be better off trying the miniseries version, because the film is scarcely worth the time.

Around history’s edges: Parkland (Peter Landesman, 2013)

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All kinds of things get left out of history’s narrative, whether for ideological reasons or because a simple story is just easier to remember. Parkland takes a look at some of the people who were deeply effected by the JFK assassination, but who are mostly forgotten in the many retellings of this event. Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) is an exception, but the film also focuses on Robert and Marguerite Oswald (James Badge Dale and Jackie Weaver), various CIA and Secret Service men, and the staff of the Parkland Hospital, upon whose operating tables both JFK and LHO died.

Many of the details in Parkland are the kind that you’d ordinarily only come across in a well-researched book, and not a film. As such, they don’t fit together to make a substantial work onscreen. However, many of its most interesting moments feel like Easter eggs, inessential but still a treat. Glenn Morshower, who played the ever-reliable Agent Pierce in 24, plays a similar character here. Gary Grubbs, who played one of Jim Garrison’s coworkers in Oliver Stone’s JFK, here plays the doctor who calls the president’s time of death. Another doctor makes an effort to keep the Secret Service men from removing the body, insisting on an autopsy; that he’s unsuccessful is fuel for conspiracy theorists, even though their views are given no credence in this film. In a moment not neat enough to be film-worthy, but characteristic of real life, the agents have to frantically tear up a plane so that they can fit the coffin on board.

Considering that this historical event has been so analysed in broader terms (you can extend its significance about as far as you’d like, especially if you’re being played by Donald Sutherland), it’s also nice to see it approached in a more personal way. The government employees don’t make much of an impact, aside from the focused Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton). The Oswalds, however, are people caught in uniquely terrible circumstances. The differing attitudes the Parkland staff take towards treating the president and LHO, combined with the surviving Oswalds’ experiences, raise intriguing questions about the value of human life.

Parkland is scattered with famous faces. Some, such as Jackie Earle Hayley as a priest and Marcia Gay Harden as a nurse, don’t do much more than show up. Zac Efron gets little emphasis as Dr. Carrico; Colin Hanks makes more of an impression in the same type of role and almost as much screentime. Adam Strong gets the unenviable task of playing LHO; I hope he had fun patterning himself after Gary Oldman. Weaver gets to be shockingly nuts, and is good at it. Dale, whose career has somehow not been as successful as Morshower’s since his own stint on 24, is a standout.

It was quite right to give the role of Zapruder to Giamatti. Of all the characters, he’s the one who most directly influenced history, by recording it. (I’m assuming that the doctors couldn’t have saved JFK or LHO.) He’s also the one the film most vividly humanises. During the assassination, the camera stays on his face, and on his own camera. The gunshots seem like inconsequential pops. The footage Zapruder recorded in those few seconds is mostly viewed, within the film, through his eyes, emphasising how horrific it is. Zapruder’s insistence that the bullet hits never be shown challenges the numbing effect caused by Stone’s “back and to the left” repetitions.

There’s probably nothing in Parkland that couldn’t be learned by reading a book. Perhaps it’s not even based wholly on facts. But considering that there has been so much written about this single event (even the book on Stone’s film is a hefty read), it’s convenient for a film to collect together the small moments we may not otherwise know, and throw in some food for thought while doing so.

In search of the thylacine: The Hunter (Daniel Nettheim, 2011)

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The Hunter may have a famous Hollywood name in leading man Willem Dafoe, but it’s steeped in Australian history and contemporary Australian issues – specifically, Tasmanian. It also has a streak of speculative fiction, which it treats in a straight-faced manner that becomes highly meaningful where it intersects with the real world. It’s an underseen film that should have a broad appeal to those who are willing to follow the story where it leads.

Dafoe is Martin, a professional hunter who’s been employed by a mysterious corporation to go to Tasmania and retrieve specimens from a Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine. This oddly mournful-looking animal has been extinct since 1936, wiped out by a combination of disease and government sponsored extermination. The last individual in captivity died through simple neglect, and is preserved through haunting footage taken by naturalist David Fleay, which appears in this film’s credits. Though Martin is ostensibly a disinterested observer, he becomes drawn into the tragedy of the thylacine, as well as the ongoing environmental battles that are still being fought in Tasmania today.

The book by Julia Leigh that The Hunter is based on is told through Martin’s perspective, but the film puts us firmly outside his head. This leads to subtle character development and leaves us guessing at how his experiences change him. During his work, he lodges with Lucy (Frances O’Connor), whose environmentalist husband also believed that there are still thylacines out there, and is now is missing and presumed dead. Lucy has become too depressed to look after her children, Sass (Morgana Davies) and Bike (Finn Woodlock). Martin’s deepening connection with the family could seem trite, were it not for the fact that it isn’t always clear what he feels about them. Martin is an inexpressive character, speaking little, and spending much of the film outdoors and alone. Dafoe creates a sense that there is something going on behind Martin’s barriers, and ably handles the moments where they crumble completely.

The film’s supporting cast is also strong. Davies and Woodlock are vital to the film’s success, and they seem natural in their roles. Sam Neill conveys a good deal as local man Jack, who, unlike Martin, is sure of what he wants but is unable to reach for it. O’Connor’s character could have been given more space, but she works well enough where given the chance.

Beyond the many scenes exploring Tasmania’s unique landscapes with wonderful clarity, The Hunter has a couple of standout points. One features excellent use of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” which was signed off on by the man himself. Another involves a terribly tense sequence that feels quite different from the rest of the film, but which the film would be weaker without. It suggests that Nettheim has more in his bag of tricks to show audiences in the future.

Nettheim claims he had no intentions of delivering a political message here. However, it is the contrast between Tasmania’s beauty and depictions of environmental destruction and exploitation that gives the film its power. Were it pure fiction, The Hunter would seem a little unambitious, but the authenticity of this film’s portrayal of the stakes that have been and still are at play in Tasmania, and all around the world, lend impact to this story.

Sympathy for Norman Bates: Peacock (Michael Lander, 2010)

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When Inception hit in mid-2010, Cillian Murphy and Ellen Paige had already shared the screen a few months before in Peacock, a film with a far more modest budget. Peacock’s failings, however, don’t include lack of ambition. Its aim is no less than to revive one of cinema’s most famous characters: Norman Bates.

Murphy is John, an incredibly withdrawn man living in his dead mother’s house, doing his best to avoid speaking to anyone else in the small town of Peacock. Murphy is also Emma, the alternate personality who looks after John and follows a strict timetable in which they abdicate control of his body to each other. After a train derails while Emma is in the backyard, the townspeople meet her for the first time and assume she’s John’s wife. Emma decides she doesn’t want to stay confined any longer, and ventures out into the world. Of course, this has significant implications for John, including the likelihood that his terrible history will repeat itself.

Peacock expects the viewer to spend the film guessing at what exactly is going on with John and Emma. Some of it is obvious if you’ve twigged onto the Norman Bates similarities, but other matters are more ambiguous. Are John and Emma aware of each other’s existence? Which of them is stronger, and who needs who more? What was John’s mother’s role in his life? Most effectively, the story plays with the viewer’s expectations of which character should be more sympathetic.

This film is peopled with an unusual combination of familiar faces. Keith Carradine, in full charmer mode, is a local politician. Bill Pullman, sporting terrible hair, is John’s manipulative boss. Susan Sarandon is the head of a local women’s shelter, reaching out to Emma, who she sees as a downtrodden wife. Ellen Paige is a waitress with an unlikely connection to John, and she falls short in comparison to the other actors. Her accent is inconsistent, her stuttering unconvincing, and her whole demeanour inauthentic. Perhaps she was cast for her fairly androgynous features, an interesting face to put opposite Murphy, or perhaps for the one or two roles that she’s been coasting on for years.

Peacock has an oddball premise, but it’s the moments of dark weirdness that jar its believability. Through ellipses, silences, flashbacks, and repetition, it explores John and Emma’s lives. Its mysteries are intriguing, but when presented in this manner, certain elements of the story are difficult to accept. I would have preferred for the film to be either more straight-forward in its telling or less lurid in some of its plot points. As it is, the tone is uncomfortable and the whole film feels unbalanced.

None of these problems matter, however, with this lead actor. Murphy strongly delineates John and Emma, he all hunched shoulders and hostile fear, she quiet steeliness behind a demure demeanour. Excellent makeup is a help, but the inevitable scene where Murphy is playing one of these characters pretending to be the other is so masterfully done that it’s instantly clear what he’s doing. The film rests entirely on Murphy’s performance, and he makes its weak points tolerable. His commitment to pursuing challenging, unconventional roles no matter how far his star rises could not be more obvious in the contrast between Inception and Peacock.

A few thoughts on Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

– David Stratton complained that one scene kept Gravity from being a masterpiece, so I spent the whole movie waiting for it. It wasn’t hard to spot. I like the scene, but the dialogue was weak, and on the whole was definitely one of the movie’s flaws.

– Cuarón and his long takes. The first cut is seventeen minutes in, but by that point I was too wrapped up in what was happening to notice.

– I’m not sure if there’s a whole lot of rewatchability to Gravity. I do want to see some scenes again because I can’t take everything in at once in 3D, and so missed plenty of details. Still, the visual impact and sense of tension won’t hold up as well at home.

– At first I shook my head (not true, I spent the whole movie sitting quite still and clutching my arms) at the sight of liquid touching the lens, remembering that blood splatter in Children of Men. The last shot showed, however, that the way the liquid reacts to the lens is significant. Very clever.

– I kept expecting a Moon-meets-The Grey ending, but didn’t get it.

– It took me a little while to get used to things happening without sound. The music compensated, but it still felt odd. Curiously, there’s a bit at the end where the music cuts out as the camera goes underwater (why do that underwater and not in space?!), and moments where sound is still present, but not in the way that the person onscreen is hearing it.

– Nitpicking much? Sometimes that’s the only way to react to a movie that’s so assured of itself, and so ambitious, and has already been roundly praised by just about everyone.

Daring but dull: Albert Nobbs (Rodrigo García, 2011)

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Despite being centred around a complex character portrayed with restraint and sympathy by Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs is nothing short of a wasted opportunity. Set in 19th century Ireland, it is about the titular Nobbs, who was born a woman but has been living as a man for many years. Nobbs has had no one to support him and protect him, but has managed to avoid the vulnerabilities faced by women of the time. He lives a small, private, and lonely life, earning a living as a butler in a modest hotel. When he meets Hubert (Janet McTeer), a woman who not only passes as a man but has found a wife, Nobbs gets larger ambitions.

Nobbs’ tale is one worth telling, a fascinating twist on the butler who has let his selfhood disappear into his professional role. The way it’s told, however, is flawed. The movie gives very little sense that Nobbs and the other characters have existed before the opening frame. Well into the film, we hear Nobbs describe his past in a monologue, which gives Close a nice acting moment but is a clear strike against the ‘show, don’t tell’ maxim. We don’t get an involving look at Nobbs’ earlier days, making him seem to have almost sprung into being all too conveniently just before meeting Hubert. By not showing much of Nobbs’ struggles, or establishing much of a status quo, it does little for the audience when his life is upturned.

As the inciting incident for this story, Nobbs meeting Hubert feels contrived. It’s a large coincidence that someone who uncovers Nobbs’ secret not only understands it but shares it. And yet, this premise is not an entirely bad choice. Characters who don’t fit into binaries of gender or sexuality, or both, are so often erased from history and in film that it’s worthwhile to see two of them. McTeer is also one of the best actors in the film, giving Hubert a gruff exterior but also a kind heart.

If Nobbs’ relationship with Jack is not approached well, but still manages to be interesting, the film’s other characters are less engaging. The woman Nobbs is fond of, Helen (Mia Wasikowska), has no redeeming aspects beyond being beautiful. It’s understandable that Joe (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) would pursue her, because he has little real respect for her or thought for the future, despite his plans of taking them both to America. However, it’s odd that even someone as socially inept as Nobbs could fail to see who she really is, especially when he’s risking so much. Meanwhile, Helen and Joe are barely tolerable whenever they’re onscreen; they may have been shaped by the same poverty that afflicts Nobbs, Hubert and so many others, but they’re a noxious pair.

Albert Nobbs had potential. I can’t help but feel, however, that it rests too much on the novelty of showing us Close and McTeer as Nobbs and Hubert. The story needed far more finesse to draw us into their world. The film manages to be moving, but that’s more a credit to these two actors than anything else.

All about the music, for better and (mostly) for worse: Les Miserables (Tom Hooper, 2012)

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It’s funny. If you’d asked me, before, I saw Les Miserables, to name an element of Tom Hooper’s directorial style (and demanded that I give an answer longer than “Erm…”), I would have said that he has an intrusive enthusiasm for backgrounds and the space around the actors in the frame. Picture the moment early on in The Damned United where Clough and Taylor are watching their team train but the buildings in the distance behind them overwhelm the shot – or if you haven’t seen that one, I’m sure you won’t have any trouble bringing that wall in The King’s Speech to mind. However, in Les Miserables Hooper has seemingly countless close ups of the actors singing, during which there may be little else in the frame. For me, this had two effects.

The first is that the sheer frequency of these shots gave me a claustrophobic feeling in which I had little sense of the wider world in which the story takes place. In some scenes, characters appear unexpectedly and all I could think was Where did he come from? Too often, I didn’t have much of an idea of what lay outside each shot, or even what the sets looked like.

The second is that I was bored. When all the camera is showing is an actor singing, and you don’t like the song, it doesn’t matter very much how good the performance is. It’s still boring. A few bars into every song, I realised I wasn’t going to enjoy it and that I was doing to have to spend the next few minutes with Hooper preventing me from appreciating sets, costumes, dance moves, rhythmic editing, camera movements, or all the other things aside from the music that you could conceivably appreciate in a musical number. (Except when Russell Crowe sang his two songs. Hooper wants you to look at anything but Russell Crowe’s performance during those songs.) “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” in particular felt like an eternity.

I feel bad about saying this because I saw Les Miserables with people who enjoyed it a lot, but the emotional directness that Hooper was aiming for hardly got to me at all. I may have shed one tear during the second last scene. It really isn’t hard to make me cry. I just didn’t like the songs, so they had no power to move me.

Most musicals would not film a song in this way, and most non-musical films would not spend several minutes focusing on little more than an actor’s face while they deliver a monologue – and if they did, they probably wouldn’t do it this much because it would lose its impact. Imagine a drama that did this as often as Les Miserables. Though I’m certain that great exceptions do exist, it’d probably get dull, no matter how good the dialogue is, or who’s delivering it.

I’m not saying Hooper made bad choices. I admire him for trying to do something different with a musical. The genre (which I like in theory but hardly ever in practice) is badly in need of some new blood. I love the idea of directors trying to blend film and music in interesting ways. But much of the time, the focus in this film is on the actors’ faces, and on the songs. I don’t like the songs, so Hooper didn’t leave me much else to enjoy.

A barely justified re-telling: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson, 2011)

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After reading John Le Carre’s novel, I have more admiration for Tomas Alfredson’s film as an adaptation. It’s remarkably compressed, yes, but not in a slavish and workmanlike fashion, as in, say, the Harry Potter movies. The plot points and pieces of information have been carefully selected and rearranged (any less care with this novel would have been disastrous) for a two hour film. Meanwhile, the additions bring something new to the source and it’s all contained within a consistent style and tone. But is all of this enough to justify telling this story again, and in this medium?

Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O’Connor have made skillful changes in their screenplay. Singapore becomes Istanbul. An action scene described near the end of the novel is reworked to open the film, reduced to a smaller scale that belies the many events that have brought it about and that it will in turn begin. Peter Guillam is changed from a womanizer to a homosexual so that his ruined relationship can comment on the effect George’s job has had on his marriage to Ann, and on why it has been so easy for Bill to manipulate Jim. Ricky Tarr is also quite different; his romance is played up to bring some badly needed pathos to the story-here he doesn’t have a wife and child, while her husband is horribly abusive.

The Circus’ Christmas party, which appears three times during the film, is particularly clever. It mirrors Le Carre’s real experiences at M16, where the Christmas parties were, apparently, wild. It also brings many of the characters into one space and results in some of the most revealing moments. Smiley seeing Ann cheating on him while everyone sings the Russian anthem is perfect.

Despite all this thought and imagination, however, I wonder: is the final film strong enough to justify a new adaptation? It goes through the plot points, but it doesn’t manage to make them feel significant on a deeper level. The film’s silence and coldness conveys the isolation and dreariness of the spying profession, but it doesn’t fully communicate the underlying complexities or emotional life of the characters, which makes it hard to invest in.

Gary Oldman is praiseworthy for his incredible stillness and for the care he takes with those moments when his George Smiley becomes less contained, but within a film full of subtle music and brown hues and elusive information he seems simply blank. Why should we care about Smiley and his task? We can only make inferences about his inner life, and I wonder if Alfredson thinks he’s made it more clear than it actually is. When the director says on his commentary that Smiley is hurt by the idea that Alleline, Bland, Haydon or Easterhase could be traitors, I was surprised. I can accept that he is, but I just think there’s hardly a trace of that in the film and have trouble believing that I’m supposed to see it.

Mark Strong is also notable for his performance here. He shows everything necessary about Jim Prideaux, including the incredible sadness of him. Strong is helped, though, by the fact that it’s a character that benefits from having the important things left unsaid. The other actors in this film aren’t so lucky and Tom Hardy and Oldman are the only ones who get to make an impression in their meagrely parcelled out screentime.

Why give this amazing cast so little to work with? Why should we care who the mole is when we barely know who any of them are? Why try to retell a story that worked as a seven-part miniseries in a two hour film? It just winds up being complicated yet insubstantial, with the closing montage the only truly affecting sequence. If the original cut of this film really was three and a half hours, that makes this all the more disappointing. Perhaps it would have worked. I’m afraid, though, that it may have given us more moments like the two minute long deleted scene that consists entirely of Gary Oldman frying an egg. That one, along with Alfredson’s commentary remarks, leaves me questioning what the director was aiming for, and what he thinks he has achieved.