Friday, November 28, 2008

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold: Grade A

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (2008)
Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner; Director Martin Ritt.

This “Criterion” release of the 1965 Le Carre film adaptation is a feast for the eyes. The film is perfectly restored, and black and white has never looked so good. It is stunningly beautiful and perfectly suited to the film noir genre and to the cold war 1960’s. Burton is very good in this role, but I think he was overrated. His acting seems flat and manufactured to me, although some of that is the character portrayed, and some of it legacy of the stage. Claire Bloom does a good job but Oskar Werner’s performance is riveting. For fans of Le Carre, this is a perfect adaptation. It captures the tension, the emotions, and the moral ambiguities of the novel and of that period of history. British spy Leamus (Burton) is supposed to act like a defector to give the East Germans some misinformation in Amsterdam. But they whisk him off to East Berlin and he learns that the British have abandoned him, so he now really is the traitor he was pretending to be. I love the way Le Carre can turn the world inside out like that.

There is a second disk in this edition showing a long, recent interview with Le Carre in which he discusses the making of the film, working with Burton and Ritt; all fascinating stuff, especially where it highlights the different points of view of a writer and a filmmaker. Then there is longish feature which is Le Carre’s autobiography told through film adaptations of his novels, focusing of course on the autobiographical, A Perfect Spy. It seems he has been self-aware all his life (the hindsight of age encourages that view), and exquisitely attuned to subtleties of the human condition. Then there is an extensive 1967 interview with Burton, who is fascinating and disturbing. And much more. Even if you have seen the original movie more than once, this Criterion edition is well worth renting.

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