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Tinker'-ing with 'Carnage'

Published January 18. 2012 05:02PM

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "Carnage" are two distinctive movies with wildly different approaches to drama.

First, there's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," a big-screen adaptation of John Le Carre's 1974 British spy novel featuring George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a middle-aged intelligence agent who, after being into forced retirement, is called back to uncover a Soviet mole in the "Circus," code name for the Secret Intelligence Service.

Control (John Hurt), the Circus Chief, has assigned code names "Tinker," "Tailor," "Soldier" and so on, derived from an English children's rhyme, to five senior British intelligence officers, each of whom is suspected of being the mole.

One doesn't doubt the veracity of Le Carre's world. Le Carre, born John Moore Cornwell, was a British intelligent agent for MI5 and MI6 during the 1950s and '60s. He was required to write under a pseudonym. His third novel, "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" (1963), was an international best-seller.

"Tinker, Tailor" is based on the exposing of the Cambridge Five, British traitors, including Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross and, perhaps best-known of all, Kim Philby.

A seven-part BBC series (1979), with Alec Guinness as George Smiley, predated the movie directed by Tomas Alfredson, based on a screenplay by Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan.

The movie sticks to the structure of the Le Carre novel, with much of it told via flashback. One of the few cues to the time-shifting are the eyeglasses worn by Smiley. One pair is more horn-rimmed. The other pair is more 1970s-style.

Much is made of Smiley getting fitted for the newer glasses. If other aspects of the storyline were paid similarly attention, the movie would have been better served. "Tinker, Tailor" is of chief interest to those who've already read Le Carre's novel and are fans of his work and characters.

"Tinker, Tailor" is exceedingly dreary, confusing and tedious. Any attempt at regurgitating the plot would be fruitless. If you're familiar with Le Carre's novel, you already know what's going on. If you haven't read the book, suffice it to say, the movie doesn't help.

That's because the "Tinker, Tailor" plot seems pointless. I guess I'm more in the Ian Fleming James Bond 007 espionage movies fantasy camp.

The movie's art direction all browns and grays and lingering telephoto lens' shots tries to add to the intrigue. It doesn't. Give me Hitchcock's "North By Northwest" (1959).

Also problematic is Oldman's performance as Smiley. Oldman's not the type of actor who lights up the screen with glee. That's fine. Still, Oldman has pulled in his interpretation here so as to be inscrutable.

The supporting cast of spies is not much help, either. Even the great Colin Firth is unable to pull the movie from the morass of morbidity.

The movie would best be described as "Five Spies Sitting Around Talking." The tedium makes several brutal depictions of violence seem all the more gratuitous.

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is as cold as the Cold War era in which the story takes place.

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for violence, some sexuality-nudity and language; Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller; Run time: 2 hours, 7 minutes; Distributed by Focus Features.

"Carnage" is an in-your-face drama taking place between two couples in a living room.

One of the couple's sons has clobbered the other couple's son in a playground fight, knocking out a few of the boy's teeth.

The parents of the victim invite the parents of the bully over to resolve the dispute. Politeness fades away and the couples' true natures emerge as well as their marital conflicts.

As it's said, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Here, the couple (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) of the injured youth, at first solicitous of the other couple (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz), becomes increasingly irritated at a perceived intransigence and insincerity. "Superficially fair-minded' is the term used.

While the movie takes place in Brooklyn, the living room is the sole location, save opening and concluding shots of the playground, revealing the film's origin as the play, "God of Carnage," by Yasmina Reza, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Roman Polanski.

Polanski uses wide-angle, almost fish-eye, lenses which emphasize the garishness of the actors' features. Foster facially looks more wren-like than ever. Reilly's pock-marked complexion is apparent. Winslet's facial features seem huge. Waltz appears diminutive.

The unflattering depictions work. These people are monsters. The movie is "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" (1966) meets "Scenes From a Marriage" (1973).

"Carnage" is an apt title. Each character is out for blood.

"Carnage," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for language; Genre: Comedy, Drama; Run time: 1 hour, 18 minutes; Distributed by Sony Classics.

Box Office, Jan. 13: "Contraband" opened at No. 1, $24.1 million, keeping the 3D re-release of "Beauty and the Beast" (1991) opening at No. 2, $18.4 million.

3. "Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol," $11.5 million, $186.7 million, five weeks; 4. "Joyful Noise," $11.3 million, opening; 5. "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," $8.4 million, $170 million, five weeks; 6. "The Devil Inside," $7.9 million, $46.2 million, two weeks; 7. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," $6.8 million, $87.9 million, four weeks; 8. "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked," $5.8 million, $118.7 million, five weeks; 9. "War Horse," $5.6 million, $65.7 million, four weeks; "The Iron Lady," $5.3 million, $5.9 million, three weeks; 13. "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," $3.1 million, $15.1 million, six weeks; 19. "Carnage," $786,000, $1.3 million, five weeks

Unreel, Jan. 20:

"Underworld: Awakening," Kate Beckinsale stars in the fourth in the action-horror series.

"Haywire," R: Steven Soderbergh directs the action-thriller about a soldier (Gina Carano) on a mission. Also starring: Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Ewan McGregor.

"Coriolanus," R: Ralph Fiennes, in his big-screen directorial debut, goes Shakespearean. The drama stars Gerard Butler and Fiennes.

"Red Tails," PG-13: African-American pilots in the Tuskegee Airmen training program are called to duty in World War II in the action movie.

Read previous movie reviews at Email Paul Willistein at: and on Facebook.

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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