Movie reviews

SET AT the height of the Cold War, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (15A) is something of a throwback to another era entirely, that era being the mid-1970s, when a particular kind of paranoid thriller reigned supreme.

Three Days of the Condor, Marathon Man, The Conversation: not only did these films not insult the audience’s intelligence, it required the audience to exercise its intelligence in order to read between the lines. Such is the case with Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John Le Carré’s novel, which boasts a labyrinthine plot and revels in an atmosphere of claustrophobic paranoia, but which also very much looks as if it were made half a century ago. In essence, the story has retired spymaster George Smiley (Gary Oldman) recalled to the Circus — aka, the headquarters of MI6 in London — to investigate the possibility that one of his former colleagues is a double-agent spying for the Russians. Aided by the callow Guillam (Benedict Cumberpatch), Smiley teases out the strands of information and disinformation spun by Allenine (Toby Jones), Bland (Ciaran Hinds), Esterhase (David Dencik) and Haydon (Colin Firth) — an impressive cast in itself, but the film also includes fine performances from the likes of John Hurt, Mark Strong and Tom Hardy, as the plot ranges from London to eastern Europe and on to Istanbul. Despite the superficial similarities, Tinker, Tailor is the antithesis of a Bond thriller. There is no glamour here, no self-aggrandising, no fumbling after the wretched remnants of empire. This is a grim, bleak world populated by ruthless, self-serving men, and one that feels far more authentic in terms of its spy craft than the cartoonish exploits of Bond’s one-man army. As a film it requires patience and attention, but it rewards both handsomely, not least in terms of the enigmatic Smiley himself, with Oldman turning in a performance that is surely worthy of an Oscar nomination.

The Change-Up (16s) stars Jason Bateman as Dave Lockwood, a lawyer on the fast-track to success who somehow manages to juggle his busy work schedule with married life and three young kids. His best buddy, Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds), is something of Dave’s alter-ego, being a slacker, a stoner, an occasional actor and full-time partygoer. Politeness demands that each pretend to envy the other’s life, although when the pair do so while peeing in a fountain while out on a bender, they somehow manage to swap personalities, so that Dave winds up trapped in Mitch’s body, and vice versa. If you’ve seen Big (1988) or any of its many copycats, you’ll have a fair idea of what comes next, as both men flail around trying to cope with the demands of their new lives, all the while gradually learning to appreciate the complexity of his friend’s situation. Likeable performances from Bateman and Reynolds offset much of the story’s inevitability, Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde provide an antidote to the testosterone overload, and director David Dobkin maintains a relentless pace that successfully glosses over most, if not all, the plotholes. Alan Arkin is woefully underused in the role of Mitch’s long-suffering father, but otherwise The Change-Up is a solid comedy that balances gross-out humour with some affecting insights into the psyche of the adolescent male.

STILL a pizza delivery boy despite advancing into his 20s, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) craves a life-defining moment, and preferably one that would allow him declare his love for Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria). Low-life crook Dwayne (Danny McBride) provides such a moment when he kidnaps Nick, straps a bomb to his chest, and informs him he’ll press the detonator if Nick doesn’t rob a bank. That’s the basic premise to 30 Minutes or Less (15A), a heist-gone-wrong comedy that rattles along from one disaster to the next, fuelled by the kind of humour to be mined from watching bumbling bad guys prove that they’re nowhere as smart as they think they are. Unfortunately, director Ruben Fleischer and screenwriter Michael Diliberti miss a trick by characterising all the main players as bumbling clowns (including the lethal hitman Chango, played by Michael Pena), which provides plenty of Keystone Cops-style laughs, but leaves the audience with no truly heroic figure to root for. That said, Eisenberg makes for an amiable on-screen presence, McBride is suitably grotesque as the scheming Dwayne, and some of the set-pieces, such as when Nick and his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) get around to robbing a bank, deliver on the story’s anarchic promise. Overall the movie delivers more fizz than actual bang, but it’s a pleasant enough diversion for all that.

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