Friday, March 9, 2012

Never Said A Word

Midway through 2011's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Gary Oldman's George Smiley brings Peter Guillam to their work room to have a drink. A bottle of scotch later, George opens up about his Russian nemesis, Karla. Most of the scene is shot from Peter's point of view. The framing of this establishing shot shows an empty chair to the left, a table in the middle, and George sitting on another chair opposite. As George recounts the story of meeting Karla, he begins to speak directly to the chair, as if Karla were sitting on it. The camera then assumes that point of view, and shows us what Karla would be seeing. George's face is tight up against the screen, his large glasses serving as both a distancing shield and a instrument of examination. (Director Tomas Alfredson says that he used a specific lens in the shot that would be used again only once more in the entirety of the film.) It's a claustrophobic shot. The room behind is dark, saturated with dusty earth tones. Suddenly we become aware that we - the audience - are experiencing the same acute internal flashback George is recounting. This peerless scene is all about Oldman, a brilliant performance in one of the best films of the year.

The feature video above excludes the end of the scene. After his story, Peter asks George what Karla looked like. He replies, "I can't remember." This is perfect. On his part, George is the embodiment of droll inconspicuousness. Ugly glasses, bland suit, long coat. No memorable physical characteristics either. He could look like anybody on the street. Regarding Karla, George says he cannot remember what he - the primary villainous force in his life - looks like. Flip sides to the same coin. What better quality for a spy - any spy - to have than to appear anonymous?

Here is the making of the scene:

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