Mark Strong, a character we thought was dead is alive. Is that flashback? You find out, thanks to dialogue, that it isn't. Then you get the story. And a moment in that story reveals the conclusion of Tom Hardy's story's thread. I like this kind of piecing together.
But why am I talking about this? If you're reading this, I'm guessing you've already watched the movie. You know what the deal is. I guess the point is: you may have missed the explanation of why Mark Strong shot Colin Firth. Why they exchanged that look in the flashback.
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Smiley: Gary Oldman
Spy at the beginning who is shot in Budapest but ends up being alive: Mark Strong
Womanizer, or "Tailor": Colin Firth
Short, mean guy who is head of "Witchcraft", Tinker: Toby Jones
Soldier, who doesn't really do much but look stern: Ciaran Hinds
Spineless guy who cries at the plane: David Dencik
Control, or the guy from V for Vendetta: John Hurt
Broken spy: Tom Hardy
Young spy in the service of Smiley, also the BBC's "Sherlock Holmes": Benedict Cumberbatch
Russian wife who really has it rough: Svetlana Khodchenkova
Under-fucked: Kathy Burke
1. Early in the movie, we're told that Firth and Strong were known as "The Inseparables".
2. Later, when we're getting the story of how Firth handled the events in the wake of Strong's failed mission in Budapest, we're told Firth and the guy telling the story went to Strong's apartment. We see this visit. While there, Firth goes to a shelf and removes a picture of he and Strong, their arms around each other, smiling.
3. After Oldman knows Firth is the mole, he reveals that Strong probably went to Firth after receiving the Budapest mission from John Hurt. Strong would have told Firth that he was going to find out who the mole is. Firth, being the mole, was the one to undercut Strong's mission. Which means Firth is responsible for Strong being shot, tortured, and broken.
4. Before Strong kills Firth, there's a flashback. It's the Christmas party that we've flashed back to several times already. Firth is meandering through the party. He sees Strong sitting down on/by the stage. They stare at each other. There's a lot of emotion in the look. Good emotion. (More emotion than in Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol).
5. Then Strong shoots Firth in the face (there's a look exchanged there too, dispassionate, determined, resigned).
There are two explanations. Either.
A. The two were best friends.
B. The two were lovers.
Points 1-4 are evidence for both arguments.
I can't think of anything more for Argument A.
For Argument B. I'll cite:
!. A motif of the film is failed romance. The first sign of this is when Oldman visits Connie at the home where she's staying. There's a young couple in the background, on a couch, making out. Connie looks at Oldman and says she's "under-fucked". She then says to Oldman she had heard he and his wife had split again. So Oldman and his wife aren't together. In the flashback to the party, we see Toby Jones awkwardly gesticulating as he interacts with his wife (he seems frustrated) (but he always seems frustrated--maybe he's also under-fucked?). Cumberbatch has to break-up with his boyfriend. Svetlana was married to a Russian, discovers he was cheating on her, screams at him, gets her head slammed into a window several times. Hardy tries to rescue her, falls in love with her, then loses her when she is kidnapped. All Hardy wants is to get her back. Unfortunately, she's killed (in front of Strong). The girl who works at the desk where Cumberbatch checks his bag (during the scene where he steals the book from the library) seemed, to me, in love with Cumberbatch, or, at the least, she had a crush on him and was trying to flirt with him and he wasn't having it (for reasons we understand a few minutes later). Even the relationship between Oldman's wife and Firth is lackluster: Firth does it not for passion, not because he cared about Oldman's wife, but only to throw off Oldman, to get in his head, to distract him. So to add Firth/Strong to this description isn't a stretch.
@. The second to last scene gives hope (maybe). After Strong kills Firth, we see Oldman return home. He enters and there's someone in the kitchen. It's his wife. He goes to her. He kneels before her. He takes her hand. He's obviously relieved, happy. I say this is "maybe hopeful" because who knows if she'll remain faithful, how long she'll stay with him this time, if she has even come back to him? She may just be there for some reason or another. But, she's there. The other evidence that supports her "return to Oldman" is the final scene: Oldman is the new head of The Circus. We can assume then that "things are going Oldman's way". That this is a happy ending. So she's back. He's in charge. Wonderful. But if these two scenes show how things are "going to be", Strong killing Firth is the climax of "what had been". Is the climax of the Plot. But is also the climax of the "failed romance" theme (the frustrated lover gets to act on the frustration). It's only after this dual-climax that the writers allow fortune to change. The Circus is pure (since Oldman is the head now and the film has held his character as the one that "does things right and well, is qualified due to experience and skill", so we assume he will lead the same way). Love can succeed.
What am I getting at? If the last two scenes are signs of hope, are, if we're to believe hope is a sign of innocence, the first innocent moments of the movie. They come in the wake of the least innocent moment of the movie. A lover murdering his ex-lover in cold-blood. You can argue the other actions, the torture, the spying, the mole-ing, even Firths' betrayal of Strong, is all part of the political game, for the greater good, was for a cause. Strong has no such larger motive. It's a personal. And while the macro-realm of the movie is all about politics and motives, the micro-realm, the personal realm, has consistently been about frustrated romance. Strong's action is the catharsis the film has been waiting for.
(Also, in this vein, Strong getting shot is the catalyst for the rest of the plot. It's only fitting the plot concludes with Strong shooting).
So. Could Strong and Firth have just been friends? Sure. But, it makes more sense, to me, when we look at the dynamics in the rest of the movie, that they had been, before Firth sold Strong out, secret lovers.
Did I Like It:
Yes. I think it's cool that it takes Oldman nearly 20 minutes to talk, but I didn't find the first hour very engaging. Interesting, but...not enticing. I didn't get into the movie until Hardy showed up and we got his story. I was into the movie from that point forward.
Alfredson and Hoyte van Hoytema did a great job with the shots. I loved what I saw. Beautiful movie.
I don't think I'd nominate it for Best Picture. But if it was nominated I'd be okay with it. I just think it's too shallow in parts (like with the rest of The Circus). And I think there's nothing at stake. Like...Russia is trying to get information about the USA. Oh BOY! I get it's The Cold War and if they get the information Russia could possibly out-maneuver the US and win the race. But I think The Cold War was stupid, brought about because Stalin was a douche and neither the US or Britain could figure out a way to handle the situation, instead we competed and got swept up in the drama. Meh. So the stakes of the movie don't matter to me. And we're never told to what end Russia WOULD use the information. If you don't know about The Cold War, uh...well, you may not know why the mole mattered. And really, without any larger stakes, the plot is just like a season of Survivor. It's drama and interesting, but it's merely drama for the sake of entertainment. And I don't mean entertainment for us. I mean entertainment for the characters. I just kept thinking: they're all bored and need something to do. Which is the same thing I think about The Cold War.
I didn't get why the scene where Oldman is waiting for the mole in the house was edited so oddly and just cuts. Then we're told Firth is the mole. That was the one area that confused me.
I don't understand why Strong knocked the fuck out of that bird. Update 4/12/12: Sunny's comment makes sense.
The movie reminded me of Blade Runner. Guy is brought out of retirement, given a mission, has to hunt. Is really quiet. Both are slow. But I like Blade Runner better.
The acting is, I think, everything you'd hope for.
What It's Good For:
-a puzzle, and some people love puzzles
-people who expect an action movie
-potential to bore
-potential to confuse
-if you go to the bathroom, you'll probably miss something important
% Character / % Actor's personality
Hinds: 80/20 (much different than in The Debt)
Oldman: Batman Begins; The Dark Knight; Leon; HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Goblet of Fire
Firth: A Single Man; The King's Speech
Hardy: RocknRolla; Inception; Warrior
Strong: RocknRolla; Sherlock Holmes; Kick-Ass; Robin Hood
Cumberbatch: Atonement; War Horse
Jones: Captain America
Hurt: V for Vendetta
Blade Runner: Ridley Scott; Harrison Ford; Rutger Hauer
Spy films: North by Northwest; The Man Who Knew Too Much; Three Days of the Condor; Army of Shadows; The Debt