Neither, I think, are fair.
Changes from the pretty much unfilmable book were always inevitable. The book focuses primarily on the the fracture, and healing, of the relationships between Susies surviving family members and those around them. In what would have been a nine hour screenplay Alice Sebold explores how people deal with grief, the lack of closure, and the realities of getting on with life. The murderer and the hunt for him are background McGuffins.
In adapting the book Jackson and his co-writers had to emphasise the dramatic tension in trying to identify the killer, greatly contract the timelines involved and try to simplify the relationships without losing their importance. They already proved they could do the near impossible when they made The Return Of The King filmable and they get almost as close here.
I'm not sure why people insist on comparing books to films as though one should be "better". Is the musical "Cats" 'better' than TS Eliots "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats"? No, and it's not worse either. Its a different medium that should be judged on it's own merits.
The killer gets away (from human retribution anyway) because - from the story point of view - thats what makes the other characters stories worth knowing. Susies parents ability to go on, rediscover their love for each other and live again without the pat ending seeing the killer brought to book is what makes them special people worth making a film about.
The film isn't perfect. Susan Sarandon's as Susies grandmother is great but doesn't get enough interaction with her daughter. Rachel Weiss's return to the family home could have done with more time spent on it. But the visuals are a treat and after this and Atonement, Saoirse Ronan has proved herself a stunning young talent to be watched closely.
Le Carre wanted the world to know - guess what? Being a spy is a job and it's largely just as dull as being a bank manager or anything else. It's bureaucracy, internecine feuding and bloated ego's getting in the way. What action does occur tends to be fast, unpleasant, confusing and immediately smoothed over... Smiley is so brilliant because he has no ambition beyond getting the job done and only academic interest in the power plays of others. This is a spy movie for chess players.
How a new film version is going to deal with this I shudder to think. If Smiley starts shooting at people I'm off.
Don't get me wrong there's little to fault here. All the performances are excellent (I was blown away by Zeljko Ivanek as the doomed Ray Fiske), production values are slick and the script does an incredible job of keeping you up to date with all the latest twists and turns But...
It's hard to care about any of these people isn't it? Every major character is duplicitous and mercenary and characters who don't start out that way either join in (Ellen) or get beaten to death in a bathtub. We could view it all as a meditation on where you draw the line in the endless 'the end justifies the means' debate but I'm not convinced.
However - my wife is completely convinced - so I look forward to the season 3 box set introducing somebody - you know - normal.
Many of the criticisms levied at the film are merely reflections of the prevailing attitude to such a project in the sixties. WWII was still a vivid memory to many of the makers (Richard Todd virtually plays himself in this film) and understandably they submit to the temptation of making their comrades a little more consciously heroic than they were. This after all is designed to be an entertainment - not a documentary. Nevertheless there is a more even handed treatment of the material than you might expect, the victory is shown as being as much due to German errors as to Allied successes and the acknowledgement of the parts played by the Free French and resistance groups seems more enlightened than modern Hollywood often manages. Three pieces of tour-de-force camera work stick out vividly - a small group of GI's playing craps is revealed, through a spectacular zoom out and tracking shot to be a vast dormitory of soldiers awaiting the word to go. Two Luftwaffe fighters strafe the beaches and we see every bit of WWII hardware the production could lay hands on as we see the attack run from the fighters POV. Finally the opening of the assault on a German garrison filmed as another single tracking shot that must have taken whole days to re-set between takes.
Dated yes but still a significant piece of cinema and a fitting tribute to the Men and Women who lost their lives in June 1944.
There is some fun to be had and I'm charitably going to assume all the jokes were intentional (The city of Glasgow is represented by half a dozen outbuildings in a field, Jake Gyllenhaal's character - having been established as an intellectual giant - demonstrates his brilliant mind by hitting a wolf on it's head with a torch) and certainly the wonderful irony of Mexico closing it's borders to keep American illegal immigrants out was a highlight.
Go see it on a big screen (it will suffer on DVD because without the spectacle you'll have to focus on the plot). You'll have forgotten it by the time you've driven home but hey - we can't all be Shakespeare, right?
By the way - Is it just me or is Dennis Quaid turning into Harrison Ford as he gets older?
A superb example of intelligent writing managing to survive in a world of slapstick
However.... For some reason this movie seems to be getting a lot of extra hype. Fincher, Foster and Whittaker have all done better work. The fact that they are so talented means that this film rises above all the shortcomings that remain visible. (The three criminals are all stereotypes, the crook with a heart, the unpredictable nut case who joins the team at the last minute and the leader who is actually the weakest). Some fairly obvious ways for the bad guys to achieve their goal are overlooked. (In fact, late in the film one of the crooks says "Why didn't we do that?")
The best way to think of it is that Fincher and Foster needed to pay the rent before doing their next "proper" projects and they at least had the good grace to make an effort for us.
A strong *** out of *****
Certainly the plot restrains itself to the facts: Queen Victoria and her gillie John Brown were friends with a great affection for each other. That their affection never went further is a certainty and the film provides ample proof of the English class and protocol systems that guaranteed it.
The set design and the supporting cast are uniformly excellent. Billy Connolly gives his best acting performance to date, but Judi Dench is breathtaking. She deservedly won a BAFTA for her performance and should have got the Oscar. (Even the recipient ,Helen Hunt, said so during her acceptance speech.)
I can understand how some viewers feel the film is cold and austere, it is, on the surface. But below the surface is a constantly shifting pattern of emotion and passion. Victorian England was exactly the same.
Eastwood puts in an astonishing performance as the retired killer Muny, saved from his life of thievery and murder by his late wife. Now, desperately trying to support his children with no income, he is tempted back to his killing ways by the bounty offered by the women of a brothel, one of whom's number has been savagely beaten and disfigured by a drunken ranch-hand.
The film follows Eastwood as he wrestles with his desire to honour his wife's memory and his need to feed his children by returning to the killer that, he fears, is his true nature. Meanwhile word of the bounty has spread and the events spiral out of control as the sheriff (Gene Hackman) deals with the guns for hire that ride into town.
While all the supporting cast are excellent Gene Hackman's Oscar winning performance even manages to eclipse Eastwoods as the brutal Sheriff. He beats one of the bounty hunters, English Bob (Richard Harris) almost to death and then explains to a journalist, in one of the film's stand out scenes, how men like he and Muny are so successful at killing. The mood moves from light banter to life threatening seriousness...and back again, with just one move of his head.
One of the greatest Westerns ever made? Certainly. Although the fact it's a western is really secondary. In truth it's a tale of the nature of evil and the nature of man. Eastwood uses the gap between the western myth and reality as an arena to play out his story and does so with consummate style.
You can't help but sympathise with poor George Clooney who, along with Una Thurman (Poison Ivy) looks embarrassed to be there. Arnie (Mr Freeze) seems to be able to keep the paycheck in sight and even seems to being enjoying himself, perhaps he's more at ease operating in an artistic vacuum than the others.
Visually, it's stunning, and the sound will impress all but the stone deaf, but anybody who wants credibility, a plot, or even a few good one-liners is in for a bitterly grim evening. How Schumacher could have made the flawed but entertaining Batman Forever and then chosen this godawful route to 'improve' on it escapes me.