Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
Fears about whether moviegoers were ready for a film involving nuclear terrorism proved ungrounded as The Sum of All Fears exploded with $31.2 million in ticket sales.
Hollywood's customary post-Memorial Day slide saw many films down 50 percent or more versus the Friday-Sunday portion of the four day holiday. Besides the post-holiday let down, films playing to adult males suffered Friday from televised NBA playoff games that drew high ratings.
The Los Angeles Lakers' Game 6 victory Friday night over the Sacramento Kings received a 13.5 overnight rating and a 24 share, according to Nielsen Media Research. That was 82 percent better than last year's comparable game when Philadelphia played Milwaukee in the Eastern finals. It was NBC's best postseason overnight rating, excluding the NBA Finals, since Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Portland. On the East Coast, New Jersey's series win Friday over Boston drew an 8.7 overnight rating and a 16 share.
L.A. and Sacramento play Game 7 today (Sunday), starting at 4:30 p.m., Pacific time and 7:30 p.m., East Coast, which is expected to cut into ticket sales for adult male appeal films.
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones took a 57 percent drop to second place with $20.7 million. Spider-Man fell only 49 percent, placing third with $14.5 million. Between them, the twin blockbusters have grossed over $586 million.
Undercover Brother kicked off in fourth place to a lively $12.1 million. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron had the best legs of all, off just 40 percent in fifth place with $10.7 million.
Key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more for the four days -- took in about $117 million, down a modest 3 percent from last year.
THE TOP TEN
Paramount's opening of its PG-13 rated thriller The Sum of All Fears captured first place with a nuclear powered ESTIMATED $31.2 million at 3,183 theaters ($9,802 per theater).
Sum's average per theater was the highest for any film playing this weekend.
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson and produced by Mace Newfeld, it stars Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman.
"It's the most successful opening of the films based on Tom Clancy books," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "It's on the high end of where we had hoped to be. It's a very successful opening and bodes well for the playability over the lifetime of the picture."
Clear and Present Danger opened to $20.35 million the weekend of Aug. 5-7, 1994. It went on to gross $122 million in domestic theaters. Patriot Games arrived to $18.5 million the weekend of June 5-7, 1992 and wound up grossing $83.3 million domestically. The Hunt For Red October was launched to $17.2 million the weekend of Mar. 2-4, 1990 and ended up doing $120.7 million domestically.
Given the much stronger opening for Fears, Lewellen noted, "So certainly we would expect this to be better (over the course of its) lifetime, as well. The playability of this is extraordinary, according to the exit polls that we did. 83 percent were (in the top two boxes) excellent and good. The audience was a little bit older. About two-thirds were over 25. The index (of how well they liked it) was an 83 versus a norm of 73. It was 50-50 male-female. And the definite recommend was very high at 71 percent versus a norm of 64 percent. The picture plays very well. We knew that from earlier screenings we had."
Asked about media concerns as to whether the public was ready to see a movie about nuclear terrorism, Lewellen replied, "I don't think that's the case, obviously. I think they were more (affected) by the basketball game than anything else. We definitely saw an impact on our Friday gross from the game. You could see it in the increase we realized yesterday (Saturday) over the Friday numbers. It was 33 percent better on Saturday than Friday and normally you won't get that kind of a jump on opening weekend."
Sunday's Game 7 between L.A. and Sacramento will also work against Fears. "That's something we've taken into consideration in our calculations here, too," Lewellen explained. "It won't help. The game is starting at 4:30 this afternoon (on the West Coast), so that's prime East Coast time and it will bite a little bit into prime time here. I'm sure there's a lot of interest there to see who New Jersey will be playing in the finals."
20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm's PG rated franchise installment Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones fell to second place in its third week with a still sizable ESTIMATED $20.68 million (-57%) at 3,161 theaters (theater count unchanged; $6,542 per theater). Its cume is approximately $232.1 million.
(NOTE: Today's percentage variations are versus the Friday-Sunday portion of the four day Memorial Day holiday weekend.)
Directed by George Lucas, it stars Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen.
"All the movies took some big hits this weekend," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning.
As to where Episode II is heading domestically, Snyder said that before making any predictions, "I'd like to see one more weekend coming off of a non-holiday, regular weekend to get a better idea of what the drops are going to be."
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace took in $431.1 million in domestic theaters. Its worldwide total (domestic plus international) was $923 million.
Columbia's PG-13 sci-fi fantasy blockbuster Spider-Man continued to hang on strongly in third place in its fifth week with a very solid ESTIMATED $14.5 million (-49%) at 3,646 theaters (-230 theaters; $3,977 per theater). Its cume is approximately $354.0 million.
Directed by Sam Raimi, it stars Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris.
"It's the fastest film ever to $350 million -- in 31 days versus 40 for Phantom Menace," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "This week it should catch and pass Jurassic Park at $357 million, which is the number five picture of all time. It has a good shot (to do so) by Thursday."
Asked where Spidey is likely to climb to, Blake replied, "Well, certainly, we go past $400 million. It's just a question of how far past. I'd say we've got $400 million very much in our sights, but we'd love to start passing and get deeper into the Top Five (of all time). We need $431 million to catch Phantom Menace and I think E.T. with its latest release is about $435 million or so. Those are nice goals and we should come close, but that could go either way.
"It's a bit of a moving target, but I think $420-450 million seems pretty logical. There's only four films that have ever been better and two of those needed a couple of releases (to get there)."
Focusing on the strong post-Memorial Day weekend, Blake pointed out, "This week after Memorial Day used to be terrible (for business) and actually was pretty good last year. This year looks like about the same, maybe a notch off. I think it's unrealistic to think the week after Memorial Day, which traditionally has been a sort of quiet between storms (period), can get too high up the ladder. We pushed it up pretty high last year with some pretty impressive openings and great holdovers. I think everybody did a pretty good job this year at keeping it at that level."
Universal and Imagine Entertainment's PG-13 rated urban appeal comedy Undercover Brother arrived in fourth place to an encouraging ESTIMATED $12.11 million at 2,168 theaters ($5,585 per theater).
Directed by Malcom D. Lee, it stars Eddie Griffin, Chris Kattan and Denise Richards. Its producers are Brian Grazer, Michael Jenkinson and Damon Lee.
"We're very pleased, knowing that we're charting new territory not unlike the first Austin Powers," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "We know that the word of mouth is good. The reviews tell us that. This picture was exceptionally reviewed and, quite frankly, was the best reviewed film for the weekend. It's a picture that many more people will discover as it goes on.
Austin Powers built its franchise later on. The original Austin Powers opened to $9.5 million (the weekend of May 2-4, 1997 and went on to gross about $54 million in domestic theaters). That franchise was built later on by video and cable (success). We're hopeful that that's exactly what will happen (with Brother). I think there's a great combination of filmmaking talent mixed with the versatility of (producer) Brian Grazer and Malcolm Lee.
"And you cannot overlook when you have great word of mouth and when you know audiences are enjoying it. You should be able to have fun with anything and everything in a true comedy and this is a true comedy. Once you get into it, it's really a lot of fun."
Rocco pointed out that Saturday afternoon she had watch the film play with an audience. "It was (during) the last third of the film and they were just having a ball," she said. "They were hooting and howling. It was a matinee audience, which looked young to me. It looked like 13 and 14 year olds. That's why this picture is PG-13. We certainly did want to be able to entertain young kids.
"There's a lot that (the stars and filmmakers) bring to the table. It's that very funny satire feel to the film. We're very hopeful that it's going be discovered well and continue to play on. It is the first comedy of the summer and the reviews are an indication that it should play well."
Rocco did not have the full details of the studio's exit poll data when we spoke very early Sunday morning, but she said she'd been advised that, "They were very, very strong, particularly for young audiences. They were in the 90 percents for teens, which is wonderful. Overall ratings were solidly above average across all (demographic) quadrants and much higher amongst younger males."
DreamWorks' G rated animated feature Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron slipped one rung to fifth place in its second week, holding well with an ESTIMATED $10.7 million (-40%) at 3,362 theaters (+45 theaters; $3,190 per theater). Its cume is approximately $38.2 million.
Directed by Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook, it was produced by Mireille Soria and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Alcon Entertainment's R rated thriller Insomnia dropped three pegs to sixth place in its second week via Warner Bros. with a less wide awake ESTIMATED $9.76 million (-53%) at 2,610 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,739 per theater). Its cume is approximately $41.4 million.
Directed by Christopher Nolan, it stars Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank.
"I think we all were impacted by the games on Friday. That's for sure," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "Everybody came back (on Saturday). We were up 62 percent over Friday. Today's going to be tough. Basketball hurts (films like Insomnia) that play to) males -- older males. So we were impacted by that."
Columbia's PG-13 rated thriller Enough dipped two rungs to seventh place in its second week with a quieter ESTIMATED $6.8 million (-51%) at 2,623 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,592 per theater). Its cume is approximately $27.1 million.
Directed by Michael Apted, it stars Jennifer Lopez.
"It's a $38 million negative and we should get into the mid-to-high $40 millions -- nice and profitable," Sony's Jeff Blake said.
Universal and Studio Canal's PG-13 rated romantic comedy drama About A Boy, from Tribeca and Working Title, fell two slots to eighth place in its third weekend with a calm ESTIMATED $4.08 million (-48%) at 1,755 theaters (+6 theaters; $2,325 per theater). Boy, which was made for only $27 million, has a cume of approximately $27.8 million.
Directed by Paul Weitz & Chris Weitz, it stars Hugh Grant, Rachel Weisz and Toni Collette.
20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises' R rated thriller Unfaithful slid two pegs to ninth place in its fourth weekend with an uneventful ESTIMATED $2.95 million (-52%) at 1,696 theaters (-705 theaters; $1,739 per theater). Its cume is approximately $45.7 million.
Directed by Adrian Lyne, it stars Richard Gere, Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Columbia's release of Revolution Studios' PG-13 rated comedy The New Guy, down two slots in its fourth week with a dull ESTIMATED $1.5 million (-66%) at 1,676 theaters (-698 theaters; $895 per theater). Its cume is approximately $26.9 million.
Directed by Ed Decter, it stars D.J. Qualls.
"A $13 million picture that gets its nose over $30 million is pretty good," Sony's Jeff Blake observed, noting that Guy will be nicely profitable.
This weekend saw the arrival of no other major openings.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend Miramax's PG rated comedy The Importance Of Being Earnest widened in its second week with a hopeful ESTIMATED $0.82 million at 147 theaters (+109 theaters; $5,544 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.5 million.
Directed by Oliver Parker, it stars Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson.
United Artists' R rated drama CQ, released through MGM Distribution Co., expanded quietly in its second week with an ESTIMATED $58,000 at 19 theaters ($3,028 per theater). Its cume is approximately $129,000.
Written and directed by Roman Coppola, it stars Jeremy Davies and Angela Lindvall.
Universal's international division reported Sunday that 40 Days and 40 Nights opened in first place in Germany this weekend ahead of Star Wars: Episode II in its third week. 40 Days grossed $2.8 million in its first three days.
In Austria 40 Days finished first with a 53 percent share of the market. It's $262,000 gross from 56 playdates was 115 percent bigger than the second ranking film, Star Wars: Episode II.
In the U.K., 40 Days opened Friday to $1.1 million, ranking second to Star Wars: Episode II's third week and 37 percent ahead of Time Machine, which opened in third place.
Charlotte Gray opened well Australia on Thursday, placing second to the third week of Star Wars: Episode II with $395,000 from 160 playdates in two days.
About a Boy was fourth in its sixth week in the U.K. Its 37-day cume is $21.1 million, passing Ice Age to rank as the fourth highest grossing film in the U.K. this year (behind Monsters, Inc., Ocean's 11 and Star Wars: Episode II).
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $117.11 million, down 3.23 percent from last year when they totaled $121.02 million.
Key films for this four day holiday weekend cannot be compared to the previous weekend of this year, which was a four day holiday weekend.
Last year, Buena Vista/Touchstone's second week of Pearl Harbor was first with $29.56 million at 3,214 theaters ($9,197 per theater); and DreamWorks' third week of Shrek was second with $28.17 million at 3,661 theaters ($7,695 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $57.8 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $51.9 million.