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.”