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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Is It a masterpiece of just boring?
I'm in two minds about this film. It's either a minor masterpiece full of great performances and with a craftily told story or in some parts a boringly paced film that tries to be far too clever for it's own good.
I found the first 30 minutes quite turgid, but made the decision to stick with it and as the film went on the characters became more and more interesting. I was impressed by how the director managed to provide the otherwise cold and calculating Smiley with vulnerable humanity. For me there were two key scenes. Firstly the moment when Smiley come across a liaison between his wife and Haydon and later when he recounts how he loses his lighter (a present from his wife) to the man who would become something of a nemesis. Both are testament to Oldman's great acting ability and I think show how well the director understood the source material.
There are also some other great performances by actors who seem to understand that their character's motivations should be open to interpretation by the audience. Mark Strong's performance as Prideaux is almost haunting, although I disliked the decision to have him shoot Hayden rather than strangle him, which I think had less impact.
As a fan of films such as 'The Conformist' and 'The Lives Of Others' which deal more with the motivations of spies rather than Bournesque style thrills, I was always going to take something from this. However, I quite understand how many cinema-goers will despair at the film. With funding from France and a Swedish director at the helm the movie in far more in line with European cinema drama than the spy thriller that some of the audience would have been hoping for. A mainstream audience are going to find it hard going and perhaps not as rewarding as it should be. Personally I was left with admiration and frustration in equal measure.
The Damned United (2009)
Whether or not it's fact or fiction it's certainly entertaining!
I went to see this film with a certain trepidation as I don't always understand the true workings of the so-called beautiful game. I'm often rather lost by the offside rule, not too sure what actually constitutes handball and can't quite understand why a good friend can kiss a poster of George Weah and refer to the Liberian as a God. However, I can recognise what a worldwide phenomenon football has become and the massive status that the late Brian Clough held within in the sport.
Clough was one heck of a character and very much of his time and this is where 'The Damned United' really succeeds. You feel like you are truly watching the 70s when men were men and modern players like constant diver Cristiano Ronaldo would have been laughed (or even kicked) off the pitch. Sheen gives an excellent performance and Clough is portrayed as a complex individual with the sort of charisma and wit, which may endear him to cinema-goers who have little knowledge of football or the man himself.
However, I saw this film with a friend who is a huge soccer fan and who confessed afterwards to having certain problems with the accuracy of the story. The film is after all based on a book by David Peace, which merges the facts with his own fiction to show what he thought might being going on behind the scenes during Clough's reign as manager of Derby County and his infamous 44 days in charge at Leeds United. Having recently watched some TV dramatisations of Peace's other novels involving the real life Yorkshire Ripper murders it is easy to see why some people find his particular way of merging fact with fiction lacking in credibility. I personally didn't have such a problem with this film as I felt it really got to grips with who Clough was as a football manager and his probable motives for how he went about the job at Leeds.
While the film's narrative sometimes veers confusingly back and forth between Clough's time at Derby and his short spell at Leeds, 'The Damned United' is a really enjoyable piece of entertainment full of great actors bringing to life intriguing characters. The ultimate strength of the film is that the story manages to become more about friendship (the relationship between Brian and Peter Taylor) and the destructiveness of vanity rather than how many football matches Clough won.