I’ve seen a couple of spy movies in the last week, and they couldn’t be more different.
“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” is exactly what I expected — lots of action, amazing stunts, Tom Cruise playing Tom Cruise, solid support from Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner, a breakout performance by Paula Patton, and a plot that barely matters. As with all movies of this type, some of the hand-to-hand fight scenes go on too long, because it’s easier to get up and keep fighting when that kick to the solar plexus/head/groin has been choreographed and there’s no contact. In real life, any one of those body shots or head-on car crashes would be enough to make you call Time Out until your insurance company could look over your claim. Still, I went into this knowing exactly what I was going to get, and director Brad Bird (whose “Iron Giant” is one of the most underrated animated movies of modern times) delivered it.
At the other end of the spectrum is “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” I didn’t read John LeCarre’s novel, and I wish I hadn’t wasted two hours watching the movie version. Although, to be precise, I didn’t see the whole movie — it was so boring, I fell asleep in the middle, and I can’t remember the last time that happened. As for explaining the plot, that’s your impossible mission. There’s something about a mole in the British intelligence service and….any more than that was a mystery to me. Worse, every actor in the movie — from Gary Oldman to John Hurt to a half-dozen guys you’ve never heard of — speaks in the same low, growly voice, no matter what they’re trying to convey (including Colin Firth, who should have been able to give everyone elocution lessons after winning the Oscar for “The King’s Speech“). To top it off, director Tomas Alfredson shot in a palette of grays that might well represent Hungary in the early 1970s, but it comes off as dark and unappealing, which doesn’t make the indecipherable dialogue and mundane plotline any better. Nor do the many short scenes with nothing happening that leave you wondering what it all means. Perhaps those who’ve read the novel are intrigued by watching a document dumbwaiter move through a building, or two men sit and sip coffee wordlessly, but those shots (which often last just a few seconds and then smash-cut to another) add nothing for the rest of us.
Caveat: don’t see “MI:GP” if you’re afraid of heights, and don’t see “TTSS” if you’re afraid of a nap.