Gary Oldman‘s performance as George Smiley, John LeCarre‘s legendary British intelligence maestro, in Tomas Alfredson‘s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Focus Features, 12.9) is, I submit, a classic less-is-more performance. Oldman is muted and subtle and keeps his range of facial expressions to a minimum, but his silences and contemplations and (very) occasionally raised eyebrows are beautiful.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy star Gary Oldman — Monday, 12.5, 3:05 pm.
Oldman and I sat down for about 19 minutes late this afternoon at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. Here‘s the mp3.
I’ll be seeing Oldman again at tomorrow night’s Tinker Tailor premiere and at the after-party, and then at a Wednesday press luncheon.
Either you love minimalist acting or you don’t, but everyone understands that it has to be done just right. Oldman from the get-go knows exactly what he’s doing. He barely moves but oh, how he delivers! The stillness of him is sublime.
In some ways Oldman plays Smiley like Alec Guiness played him in the 1979 British-produced Tinker Tailor miniseries — dryly, carefully, studiously. But he uses his own voice (which he says he took from Le Carre, a.k.a. David Cornwall) and his own set of facial and body gestures, and his own quiet humor.
Oldman’s Smiley is now in the company of previously honored minimalist performances — Al Pacino in The Godfather, Part II, Kristin Scott Thomas in I’ve Loved You For So Long, Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbles and Tom Horn, Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain.
Who’s locked into the Best Actor race? The Descendants‘ George Clooney and Moneyball‘s Brad Pitt, for sure. And then Oldman, I believe, because of the subtlety, authority and precision. And then Michael Fassbender, I suppose, for his well-hung ice man in Shame, although I think his performance is somewhat narrow and repetitive and imprisoned, in a sense. (I know that’s the point but I still found it limiting.)
I’m not a believer in Jean Dujardin in The Artist because I found the broadness of his performance (necessary, obviously, because he’s in a silent film) a bit tiring. If you ask me the fifth slot is between Rampart‘s Woody Harrelson and Take Shelter‘s Michael Shannon. Leonardo DiCaprio‘s J. Edgar Hoover was intense and absorbing as far as it went, but the movie…I don’t know. My dream nominee is A Better Life‘s Damian Bichir, but his Spirit Award Best Actor nomination is probably as far as he can get.
Last September I called Tinker Tailor “a furrowed-brow spy film, cautious and probing and undashing, submerged in a world of half-clues and telling looks and indications…London fog and brain matter and ’70s technology…it’s just atmospherically dead-on. And that’s certainly pleasurable in itself. It’s simultaneously ambiguous and clean and masterful in the manner of a slowed-down pulse.
“Oldman’s Smiley isn’t hiding himself in the slightest, but his manner is naturally circumspect and cerebral and analytical. As a matter of professional purpose and demeanor he’s chosen to be this way, and there’s something gassy about this from an audience perspective.”
In the old days the star of a film was sometimes introduced by stealth. The camera would show a portion of his/her anatomy — a behind-the-head shot or an insert of his/her hands or a shot of walking shoes, say — but the face wouldn’t be revealed until 10 or 20 or even 30 seconds had elapsed. This told the audience, of course, that the person being concealed was at the very least a major costar, and most likely a romantic figure. And they wanted to know more.
Sean Connery was introduced this way at the beginning of Dr. No, his first 007 film. Ditto Farley Granger and Robert Walker in the opening seconds of Strangers On A Train. Vivien Leigh‘s face was partially obscured for four or five seconds during her first scene as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind.
But no one ever kept a star’s face from being shown as long as Alfred Hitchcock did during an early scene in Notorious. For a full 93 seconds he showed audiences only the back of Cary Grant‘s head. To prolong the who-is-this? effect he had costar Ingrid Bergman speak three lines to Grant, who was shown sitting down and drinking at a small party at Bergman’s home, and with Grant saying nothing in return, and not even gesturing in some way.
It’s still fascinating today. Bergman pours him a drink, sizes him up and asks if she knows him. Nothing. Then she says, “That’s okay, I like party-crashers.” And a woman dancing nearby says, “He’s not a crasher — I brought him.” And you’re thinking, “Okay, but who is he?” You’re also wondering why doesn’t he at least offer some mild little pleasantry when Bergman says, “You know something? I like you.” Does he smile or wink? No telling. All we see is the stillness and the shiny black hair. And yet it’s obvious he’s Mr. Cool. Finally the dangle ends after a minute and 33 seconds, and in the next scene the camera finally introduces that familiar cleft chin and the cow eyes and all the rest.
Here’s the clip. The back-of-the-head shot lasts from 3:06 to 4:39.
I’m mentioning this for two reasons. One, MGM Home Video is releasing a Notorious Bluray on 1.24.12. And two, stealth introductions like Grant’s in Notorious are over and done with. Ones that last a long time, I mean. Unless I’m forgetting something.
Congrats again to Tyrannosaur‘s Olivia Colman for winning the Best Actress award at the British Independent Film Award ceremony the other night, and apologies for never getting around to posting our chat at L.A.’s Hotel Standard, which happened on 11.18. Time flies and I’m sorry, but here it is.
Please listen to this There Will Be Blood-like dialogue between New Yorker critic David Denby and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo producer Scott Rudin. It’s on a site called Oscar Speak Podcast. The actors are Ryan Santor and Brian Ariotti.
The only weak part is when co-host Karen Nagle hesitates and slightly stumbles while saying Denby and Rudin’s names, suggesting that she doesn’t know who they are.
No time to comment due to my impending Gary Oldman interview but here are the Sundance 2012 premieres and premiere docs, which were sent out a few minutes ago.
A showcase of some of the most highly anticipated dramatic films of the coming year from new and established directors. Presented by Entertainment Weekly. Each is a world premiere.
2 Days in New York / France (Director: Julie Delpy, Screenwriters: Julie Delpy, Alexia Landeau) — Marion has broken up with Jack and now lives in New York with their child. A visit from her family, the different cultural background of her new boyfriend, her sister’s ex-boyfriend, and her upcoming photo exhibition make for an explosive mix. Cast: Julie Delpy, Chris Rock, Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Alex Nahon.
Arbitrage / U.S.A. (Director, screenwriter: Nicholas Jarecki) — A hedge-fund magnate is in over his head, desperately trying to complete the sale of his trading empire before the depths of his fraud are revealed. An unexpected, bloody error forces him to turn to the most unlikely corner for help. Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Nate Parker.
Bachelorette / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Leslye Headland) — Unresolved issues between four high school friends come roaring back to life when the least popular of them gets engaged to one of the most eligible bachelors in New York City and asks the others to be bridesmaids in her wedding. Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, James Marsden, Adam Scott, Kyle Bornheimer.
California Solo / U.S.A. (Director, screenwriter: Marshall Lewy) — A former Britpop rocker has long settled for an unfettered life working on a farm outside of L.A. When he’s caught driving drunk and faces deportation, he must confront past and current demons in his life to stay in the country. Cast: Robert Carlyle, Alexia Rasmussen, Kathleen Wilhoite, A Martinez, Danny Masterson.
Celeste and Jesse Forever / U.S.A. (Director: Lee Toland Krieger, Screenwriters: Rashida Jones, Will McCormack) — Celeste and Jesse met in high school, married young, and at 30, decide to get divorced but remain best friends while pursuing other relationships. Cast: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Ari Graynor, Chris Messina, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts.
For A Good Time, Call… / U.S.A. (Director: Jamie Travis. Screenwriters: Katie Anne Naylon & Lauren Anne Miller) — Lauren and Katie move in together after a loss of a relationship and a loss of a rent controlled home, respectively. When Lauren learns what Katie does for a living the two enter into a wildly unconventional business venture. Cast: Ari Graynor, Lauren Anne Miller, Justin Long, Mark Webber, James Wolk.
Goats / U.S.A. (Director: Christopher Neil. Screenwriter: Mark Jude Poirier) — Ellis leaves his unconventional desert home to attend the disciplined and structured Gates Academy. There, he re-connects with his estranged father and for the first time questions the family dynamics. Cast: David Duchovny, Vera Farmiga, Graham Phillips, Justin Kirk, Ty Burrell.
Lay The Favorite / U.S.A. (Director: Stephen Frears, Screenwriter: D.V. Devincintis) — An adventurous young woman gets involved with a group of geeky older men who have found a way to work the sportsbook system in Las Vegas to their advantage. Cast: Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rebecca Hall.
Liberal Arts / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Josh Radnor) — When 30-something Jesse is invited back to his alma mater, he falls for a 19-year-old college student and is faced with the powerful attraction that springs up between them. Cast: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, John Magaro, Elizabeth Reaser.
Price Check / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Michael Walker) — Pete is having trouble resolving a happy marriage and family life with rising debt and a job he hates. When his new boss pulls him into the maelstrom that is her life, money and opportunities come his way, but at what price? Cast: Parker Posey, Eric Mabius, Annie Parisse, Josh Pais, Cheyenne Jackson.
Red Hook Summer / U.S.A. (Director: Spike Lee, Screenwriters: James McBride, Spike Lee) — A young Atlanta boy spends his summer in Brooklyn with his grandfather, who he’s never seen before. Cast: Clark Peters, Jules Brown, Toni Lysaith, James Ransone, Thomas Jefferson Byrd.
Red Lights / U.S.A., Spain (Director and screenwriter: Rodrigo Cortes) — Psychologist Margaret Matheson and her assistant study paranormal activity, which leads them to investigate a world-renowned psychic. Cast: Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones.
Robot and Frank / U.S.A. (Director: Jake Schreier. Screenwriter: Christopher Ford) — A curmudgeonly older dad’s grown kids install a robot as his caretaker. Cast: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler. SALT LAKE CITY GALA FILM
Shadow Dancer / United Kingdom (Director: James Marsh. Screenwriter: Tom Brady) — When a widowed mother is arrested in an aborted bomb plot she must make hard choices to protect her son in this heart-wrenching thriller. Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Aiden Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson, Gillian Anderson and Clive Owen.
The Words / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal) — Aspiring writer Rory Jansen finds another man’s haunting memories in a collection of lost stories and claims them as his own, propelling him to literary stardom. Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana. CLOSING NIGHT FILM
Special event: Hit RECord at the Movies with Joseph Gordon-Levitt — Be a part of the process by joining Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the global hitRECord community for a special one-time-only interactive exploration of the power of making things together. Gordon-Levitt will showcase works that have been created from the collaborative hitRECord production company and invite the audience to engage, interact and contribute to the event using their digital devices. The event will be recorded, with footage posted on their website for all to enjoy and be inspired by. hitRECord, which launched with an installation in the New Frontier section of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, returns to the Festival to showcase the project’s evolution and potential for creative experimentation.
Created to highlight the growing impact and popularity of documentaries in our world today, Documentary Premieres presents eight moving new films about big subjects or by master filmmakers that showcase the power of the form. Each is a world premiere.
About Face / U.S.A. (Director: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders) — An exploration of beauty and aging through the stories of the original supermodels. Participants including Isabella Rossellini, Christie Brinkley, Beverly Johnson, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Paulina Porizkova, Jerry Hall and Christy Turlington weigh in on the fashion industry and how they reassess and redefine their own sense of beauty as their careers progress.
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography / U.S.A. (Director: Stacy Peralta) — When six teenage boys came together as a skateboarding team in the 1980s, they reinvented not only their chosen sport but themselves too – as they evolved from insecure outsiders to the most influential athletes in the field.
The D Word: Understanding Dyslexia / U.S.A. (Director: James Redford) — While following a Dyslexic high school senior struggling to achieve his dream of getting into a competitive college, The D Word exposes myths about Dyslexia and reveals cutting edge research to elucidate this widely misunderstood condition.
Ethel / U.S.A. (Director: Rory Kennedy) — This intimate, surprising portrait of Ethel Kennedy provides an insider’s view of a political dynasty, including Ethel’s life with Robert F. Kennedy and the years following his death when she raised their eleven children on her own.
A Fierce Green Fire / U.S.A. (Director: Mark Kitchell) — A definitive history of one of the most important movements of the 20th century, A Fierce Green Fire chronicles the environmental movement’s fascinating evolution from the 1960s to the present.
Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap / United Kingdom (Director: Ice-T. Co-Director: Andy Baybutt) — Through conversations with Rap’s most influential artists – among them Chuck D, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Eminem, MC Lyte, Mos Def, and Kanye West – Ice-T explores the roots and history of Rap and reveals the creative process behind this now dominant art form.
Untitled Paul Simon Project / U.S.A. (Director: Joe Berlinger) — Paul Simon returns to South Africa to explore the incredible journey of his historic Graceland album, including the political backlash he sparked for allegedly breaking the UN cultural boycott of South Africa, designed to end Apartheid.
West of Memphis / U.S.A. (Director: Amy Berg) — Three teenage boys are incarcerated for the murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. 19 years later, new evidence calls into question the convictions and raises issues of judicial, prosecutorial and jury misconduct – showing that the first casualty of a corrupt justice system is the truth.
I’ve watched this early ’80s High Point coffee commercial four times over the last half-hour. I find it mesmerizing in a “so bizarre it’s great” sense, but it’s easy to look back on old ads and snicker. I have all this work to do and an interview with Gary Oldman in 65 minutes and I’m looking at this over and over. There’s something wrong with me.
High Point coffee, advertised as “97% caffeine-free,” was discontinued in 1993.
Gena Rowlands‘ performance in A Woman Under The Influence was an early influence upon Kristen Stewart. So when exactly is she going to deliver a tour de force like that? Because she really needs to do something difficult and noteworthy to counterbalance the Twilight onslaught of the last three years plus her Snow White and the Huntsman role….a medieval CG paycheck role with a sword, a shield and a chestplate.
I used to think KStew might be evolving into Sean Penn. Now I’m not so sure.
That said I’ve admired her work in The Runaways, Welcome to the Rileys and Adventureland. And I’m looking forward to her reportedly upfront Marylou performance in Walter Salles‘ On the Road.
Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson has posted a very tangy and candid q & a with Young Adult director Jason Reitman. It very precisely articulates the nature and character of Young Adult. Here’s my favorite part:
Anne Thompson: “Diablo Cody has a very strong voice. Did you ever want to mute or delete or say, ‘you went too far here?’ Or did you say, ‘let’s go for it?'”
Jason Reitman: “No, no. I love Diablo’s voice and I love how gutsy she is in her writing. It’s gutsy to sit down and write this script. The script is basically un-makeable. You know what I mean?”
AT: “Yes! A normal studio, ordinarily, would say, ‘forget this.'”
JR: “Yeah. And she knows this business now. If you were completely naive, maybe you’d write this and you wouldn’t know any better. But she knows better. She knows how un-makeable the film is, particularly the way it ends. And she wrote it. And she wrote the character without compromising, from start to end, on who she was. She never tried to excuse her behavior, she said, ‘no, this is a broken, traumatized human being who wants to be loved and makes horrible mistakes and treats people horribly,’ and that’s why I loved it. And that’s why Charlize loved it.”
AT: “Mavis looks back to her glory days in high school as the prom queen, and still manipulates people with her beauty. She’s twisted about it.”
JR: “[Charlize] took this character which could so easily be a caricature, just a mean woman who is nasty — you see actors do this all the time. They play a really mean character and they overdo it just enough to let you know, ‘I’m doing a character, I’m not really like this,’ but she is able not only to do it without compromise but to show how broken she is the entire time without using dialogue, without clothes, without body language. There’s nothing that she does where she’s signaling to you, ‘by the way I’m a broken human being.’ She does it with her nature. Very few actors know how to do that, and she does it just effortlessly.”
AT: “I got angry at a friend of mine because he walked out of the movie.”
JR: “Dick!” (Laughter)
AT: “And I said, ‘you’re excoriating this movie, you’re going on and on about how uncomfortable you feel, and I’m not going to argue with you but you didn’t stay to see the resolution. That’s what makes the whole thing pay off.'”
JR: “I find that people’s attitude about the movie changes 24, 48 hours after they see it. Because at first it’s a smack in the face, and some people get smacked. But a day later, maybe you start to look at it and think, ‘well I haven’t had that kind of theatrical experience in a while, maybe there’s something about that I can relate to.’ Diablo once said that this is our horror film.”
AT: “It is. You’re putting people through a kind of social torture, because all of us are anxious about social situations where we might do the wrong thing or humiliating ourselves in front of someone you love. It’s always excruciating. That’s what you show.”
JR: “And the monster’s alive at the end. Like a horror film! Like you think she’s killed, but she’s back. Patton has all sorts of theories about how this is a horror film. Like the wine stain is a blood stain on her dress. So I do think this is my horror film.”
I have to insert one nagging observation. Reitman calling YA a horror film and Charlize’s Mavis being a monster sent my mind into an association that has nothing to do with Young Adult and everything to do with Reitman’s undercurrent and appearance when you see him at events and screenings. He’s a very straight shooter and a tough hombre, but he always gives me this look that says, “Aaahh, you again…look, no offense but talk to someone else, okay?’ And that’s cool. I don’t need everyone to like me. I just have to be as honest and skillful with my HE writings as possible and let the chips fall, etc.
Maybe Reitman didn’t like this piece I did about why he lost the Best Screenplay Oscar. Or this January 2010 piece about the real meaning of The Insider, which Reitman felt meant “smoking bad! tobacco companies bad!”
Anyway, the Reitman association I have is that with the anger (which is pretty much an essential ingredient for any serious artist) and the beard and the long graying hair, Reitman is a kind of werewolf. A Hollywood werewolf who puts on his Lawrence Talbot face to the industry and interviewers, but who has this other side when the moon is full and you run into him at parties.
The first portion of this clip (up until 1:14) contains John Wayne‘s best scene ever. The resolve mixed with fatigue and resignation, the perfect phrasing, the way he turns to Montgomery Clift when he says “one time you’ll turn around and I’ll be there” and then turns away for the final line: “I’m gonna kill ya, Matt.” God, he was good when he was good! And then Dimitri Tiomkin‘s music kicks in with just the right feeling and emphasis.
I don’t care how many people follow David Denby into the abyss of expediency and post their Girl With The Dragon Tattoo reviews today or tomorrow or whatever. I will not because I pledged in writing that I would not, and that’s that. The “olly olly in come free” is only seven days from now. Yes, I’d like to re-post that thing I wrote (and then took down) about Rooney Mara being in the Best Actress race now, but that piece didn’t convey any views whatsoever about the film so it’s a different deal.
In his The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo review, David Denby says that Rooney Mara‘s performance as Lisbeth Salander is mesmerizing, and that she basically owns the film and that costar Daniel Craig is okay with that — he lets her carry the ball. Another interesting point in the review is that while David Fincher‘s Tattoo says that everything can be discovered if you drill deeply enough, Zodiac, Fincher’s masterpiece, says pretty much the opposite.