Archive for the ‘Colin Firth’ Category

MOVIE: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

January 12, 2012

My first thought as the opening credits to this spy thriller began was, “Wow, what a cast!”  Gary Oldman, Benedict “Sherlock” Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Hardy, and John Hurt?  Holy crazy bananas, Batman!

Not five minutes later, though, the cast was all but forgotten — this movie sucked me in immediately, and the actors, Oldman in particular, are so tremendously good I stopped thinking about them as real people and instead became fully engrossed in their roles.

For those who have never read the John le Carré novel, or seen earlier versions of the story on the screen, it’s about a mole in British Intelligence in 1973 and is the first in a series le Carré wrote about an older British spy named George Smiley.  The movie opens with a British secret agent, Jim Prideaux, being sent to Hungary to meet with a Hungarian general who wants to sell information to the UK.  The operation is blown, though, when the Russians get information about when and where it’s taking place and open fire, leaving Prideaux bleeding on the ground.

Word gets back to British Intelligence, and, amid the international hoopla that follows, the current head of the organization, known as “Control” (Hurt), and his number one agent, Smiley (Oldman) are forced into retirement (Control dying soon after of natural causes).  Bosses shift around, things settle, and a group of the top agents, known as the Circus, begin work on a new project that involves obtaining high-level Soviet intelligence material and then trading it to the US government for secrets of their own, a project whose real endgame Control and Smiley had long been suspicious of: Operation Witchcraft.

When Oliver Lacon, the civil servant in charge of intelligence, hears an allegation that there’s a leak in the Circus, he goes outside the group to bring in an independent investigator — George Smiley.  As Smiley begins to dig into the timeline, interview the various players, and build up evidence, he discovers that Control’s real reason for having sent Prideaux to Hungary was to reveal the mole’s identity.  He breaks into Control’s old apartment and there finds a set of chess pieces labeled with the photos and code names for each of his suspects:  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier. . . and Spy.

Though the plot is complex and difficult to follow at times (there’s a lot of jumping around in time, for one thing, without much in the way of assistance in keeping track), I never found this frustrating.  Instead, it’s what kept me glued to my seat, riveted by the multi-layered story unfolding on the screen.  The acting is incredible — when Gary Oldman is good, he is so very, very good, I must say — and the pacing is perfect.  By the end, I was squirming in my seat, anxious and paranoid — is HE the mole?  Is HE?  Is it SMILEY?  And I’ve read the book!  (Though, granted, I read it nearly 20 years ago. . .)

This is a great movie to see if you’re in the mood for a bit of a brain game, and one I have no doubt will get even better with multiple viewings.  Definitely recommended, and I hope they make at least one more of the Smiley books into a film with the same cast.  So much more fun than Bond!

[Prequeue it at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Thriller, Spy
Cast:  Gary Oldman, Kathy Burke, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Dencik, Colin Firth, Stephen Graham, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones

MOVIE: The King’s Speech (2010)

January 7, 2011

I spent last weekend at the movies, where I saw two films that had been showing up on a lot of critics’ top-ten lists for 2010.  I was really, really excited to see them both, which is, I believe, primarily where I went wrong.  (Lofty expectations:  almost never a good way to start a movie.)

The first was True Grit, a very, very good film (really!  I mean that!  stop acting like I hated True Grit, everyone!) but not, I’m sorry, a great one, and the second was this one.  Which, I’m afraid:  same-same.

While I was perfectly entertained by The King’s Speech, I’m sort of boggled as to why it made it, last-minute, onto so many of those film critics’ lists.  It’s funny, it’s nicely filmed, it’s very well-acted, but it’s not, again, what I would classify as a “great film.”

The story is about King George VI, neé Prince Albert (Colin Firth).  It’s the 1930s, and radio has just entered the realm of global politics, with leaders all over the world beginning to give addresses to their citizens en masse for the first time in history.

The sitting King, George V, is ailing, though, and which of his sons will replace him is a topic of much controversy.  The first son, Edward (Guy Pearce), is embroiled in a first-rate scandal — he’s in love with, and plans to marry, a twice-divorced American woman named Wallis Simpson, something that has the Church of England, no great fans of divorce, all up in his grill (so to speak).  When the king dies and Edward  takes the throne, his own government essentially gives him an ultimatum:  dump the love of your life or give us back that crown.

Edward, being both reckless and true to himself (neither thing much suited to politics), agrees to abdicate to his brother, Albert (who then changes his  name to George VI to sound more regal).

The problem is that for years, Albert has struggled with a terrible stammer that leaves him wholly unfit for radio work and speeches.  With England on the verge of war, the country desperately needs a leader who can inspire confidence.  But whenever Bertie opens his mouth, he sounds unprepared, unprofessional, boring, and difficult to understand — not to mention palpably painful to listen to for anybody, the film’s audience included, who knows what he’s going through.

Enter Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a kooky speech therapist Bertie’s wife (Helena Bonham Carter) digs up after every other doctor has failed to help.  Lionel and Bertie butt heads immediately when it becomes clear Logue has no special respect for regal status.  But the more the two work together — Lionel holding fast to the theory Bertie’s stammer is essentially all in his head: the product of a difficult childhood and the anxiety and self-doubt it created — the more Bertie begins to realize he can do it.  Not just talk without a stammer, but, more importantly, lead a nation.

The film nicely both opens and closes with a speech, a full-circle structural technique I always appreciate in films, and there were a lot of visuals I found totally delightful as well (I especially enjoyed the way faces were often framed against broad, colorful walls — the muddied mess of the wall in the treatment room; the patterned wallpaper in Lionel’s sitting room; the blanketed wall in the speech room at the end of the film, etc.  In many shots, the walls seemed to be the important element, with the person’s head off in a bottom corner:  an interesting way to draw comparisons against the men themselves and the various incongruous settings they find themselves in).  Plus, the acting was inarguably superb; Oscar talk for Firth is completely justified, in my opinion, because he makes both Bertie’s stammer and lisp sound completely natural to him, which can’t have been easy to do.  And Rush is Rush — a little bit crackers, a blast to hang out with.

The problem is, the schtick, which primarily relies on the inherent comedy found in watching a prude let go of his morals and begin dropping the  f-word with abandon, got old pretty fast.  And overall, I didn’t think this film had much depth to it.  It’s a nice story, told well, but I wasn’t particularly moved by it.  It isn’t likely to stick with me in any significant way. It’s a good movie.  It’s very entertaining.   But it’s not a movie I’m likely to feel moved to watch again.

Definitely worth a rental, especially if you enjoy period dramas.  But you can probably skip the theater for this one.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Drama
Cast:   Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi

MOVIE: Pride & Prejudice (2005)

September 16, 2007

I’d been resisting watching this movie ever since it came out because, frankly, why bother watching a new two-hour version, when I can just watch the four-hour 1995 version I already love soooooo much and have seen at least a bazillion times?

Though this newer version has its moments — it’s got lovely scenery and colors, and I did enjoy Keira Knightley as Elizabeth as well as Judi Dench as the insufferable Lady Catherine — my final review of it can be boiled down into a simple phrase:

Matthew McFayden is no Colin Firth.

And that, my friends, pretty much says it all.

I suspect the way these two versions compete is thus: whichever one you saw first is the one you love most. And so, if you’ve never seen the 1995 version, complete with Colin’s famous wet shirt scene (hubba hubba!), you’ll probably enjoy this version well enough. In fact, you might even swoon for it. But those of us whose first onscreen Darcy was Firth’s will never be able to relax into McFayden’s version fully. There’s just really no comparison whatsoever. So, for me, this version was only okay — it’s watchable, but it doesn’t achieve the same level of greatness as the version that was my first.

Glad I saw it — never need to bother with it again. Now, where are my 1995 version DVDs. . . ?

[Netflix me | Buy me]

[Netflix the better version | Buy the better version]

Genre: Romance

Cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew McFayden, Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland, Jean Malone, Judi Dench, Rupert Friend