There are certain film roles that are so dangerously unremarkable that only a small handful of actors could pull them off. Yet film roles they are, no doubt. Framed by television these roles would disappear, quite literally, or be deprived of their precious silence. But on the big screen, the quietly unremarkable role played by the remarkable actor is worth my money any day of the week.
Gary Oldman's performance as the iconic LeCarre anti-protagonist George Smiley in Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the definition of powerful subtlety. (The last actor to tackle Smiley was Alec Guinness, after Star Wars - a master of subtlety if there ever was one) Spanning several novels, Smiley is perhaps best described by Anthony Lane - "a man whose great days, as a hopeful human, are already behind him, even though his finest hour, as a spy, may be yet to come". This is such a quintessentially British role, Smiley is as close to resignation as he is to redemption.
The challenge to making a role like Smiley compelling lies in the subtlety. Smiley is described as a man you would meet and instantly forget. He is middle-aged, defeated, and until he takes up the challenge, complacent. How do you make that interesting?
And that's something you either got, or you don't.
There is no faking krunk. There is earning krunk. There is having krunk beaten into you. There is even natural-born krunk. But there is no faking krunk.
Actors who define krunk? Betty Davis. Nicholson. Bogart. Meryl Streep. Morgan Freeman. Russell Crowe, to name just a few.
In this role, the only thing that makes the incredible subtlety of Smiley work is the weight of his entire career. It is almost as though Smiley was a very British Clint Eastwood role; but different than a British Clint Eastwood role in, say, a Guy Ritchie movie. Smiley is all about intellectual weight, which is the domain of a very small handful of actors.
Alfredson says Smiley is all about vulnerability, but in the dissection of what are layers and what are roots in a role - that may be a layer. The roots in Smiley, as in any man his age, lie in his Weltanschauung, or his world-view. When a performance is so completely clear in its world view, there is no visible separation between actor and role. It is complete.
The world-view is the hinge between an actor's life experience and what lies in a role. It is an actor's way into a role, and should become its backbone. What you dream about, is the perfect marriage of world-view, life experience, and a great role. This performance, like many of his others, has it all.
This year seems to be the year of possibility with movies. If there is more of the same to come, actors have something to hope for going forward. If you haven't, go see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.