Tag Archives: Gary Oldman

Review: The Laundromat

The Laundromat

I’m a bit of Soderbergh skeptic. That combined with the tepid response from this year’s festivals meant that I went into The Laundromat with fairly low expectations. This must have worked in the film’s favour, though, because I had far more fun with it than I expected to.

Borrowing a healthy helping of self-referential winks and fourth wall-breaking from The Big Short, Soderbergh’s latest follows the Panama Papers scandal with a breezy, sardonic “explainer” approach. And while Soderbergh’s grasp on the film’s “meta” aspect sometimes feels ham-fisted (e.g. the film’s thudding final scene) there’s enough wit and genuine glee to make for an entertaining watch. It also helps when your narrators/guides through it all are as effortlessly charming as Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman.

The rest of the cast here is stacked, too. Delightful faces arrive throughout (in some cases only to exit a few minutes later) and many of the film’s lesser-known actors fit seamlessly into Soderbergh’s starkly, subtly off-kilter worldview, feeling right at home alongside the likes of Meryl Streep.

This works with the film’s sometimes episodic approach. Inevitably, some vignettes work better than others, but when they work, the film really pops. This is especially true of the scene between Rosalind Chao (one of those less familiar faces giving a standout performance) and Matthias Schoenaerts, who square off in a business deal late in the film. To say more would get into spoiler territory, but that sequence is a wonderful showcase for Soderbergh’s chops when it comes to directing clear-eyed suspense.

I do wish the rest of the film had more of that kind of bite to it, though. Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns take a largely comedic approach, but some of the punchlines don’t have quite the impact they seem to be working towards during the (sometimes lengthy) buildup. It’s an entertaining watch, but it alternates at times between being too heavy-handed or too vague to have the intended impact.

Being a Soderbergh project, though, there are still some wonderful details included. One small thing I particular appreciated was the subtle focus put on the secretaries and assistants playing witness from the sidelines. Sometimes they try to reason with their wayward bosses, and sometimes they just observe, but they’re always in the frame bearing witness to the corruption. It’s a surprisingly subtle “show don’t tell” touch for a film that does an awful lot of telling.

I guess this all comes with the Soderbergh territory and it worked well for me here. He’s a director who’s always willing to try new things, and while it certainly hasn’t all worked, there’s always something interesting happening in his films. The Laundromat doesn’t have the crackle that some will crave, but given the subject matter its slightly scattered tone somehow feels just about right.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)


I have a confession. I’m someone who tends to struggle to follow even moderately complicated movie plots. I have a bad habit of zoning out at the exact moments when I should be paying attention. You probably know which moments I’m talking about. It’s the ones where one character spends five minutes carefully laying out detailed plot exposition to another character, and to the audience. This is usually done in really unrealistic, heavy-handed ways that grind the movie to a halt. And while I’m definitely to blame for this shortcoming (I really should just listen more closely), I also like to pass the buck to the filmmakers. Maybe if they set out their exposition in more interesting, subtle ways, I would be compelled to pay attention, no?

This is where I give Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a lot of credit. This is a complicated film. I imagine that even people more perceptive than I will struggle to follow every intricacy of the plot. However, it lays out its spiderweb of a narrative in compelling, unique ways. By switching between time periods, countries, and about a dozen different characters, things could easily get muddled. And while I wasn’t always 100% following every detail, director Tomas Alfredson did a great job of keeping things coherent and interesting.

At its core, Tinker Tailor is a who-done-it film. Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, a retired British Intelligence agent who must help his old crew figure out who among their group is actually a Soviet mole. That’s literally it. Of course, there is much more to the story than that, but I’ll let you sort out the finer details on your own.

The story is complex, and it gives you a lot to think about while watching. But the film can also be enjoyed on many different levels. Most notably (to me), it’s just gorgeous to look at. Alfredson’s visual style is right up my alley, full of damp tones, and sparse cinematography. Some of his shots of the London streets are absolutely breathtaking. His style seems very well-suited to the Cold War era, and he evokes such atmosphere. The tension and paranoia is almost palpable through the camera, and that is arguably the film’s strongest suit.

Of course, you also have to talk about the performances. Gary Oldman is magnificent, as always. George Smiley is such a repressed character, and Oldman nails it. Smiley plays his cards close to his chest, yet Oldman brilliantly gives away tiny hints in his expressions and body language to let the audience in on his emotions. These hairline cracks in the facade are far more telling than any over-the-top “freak out” scene that most movie character inevitably experience. I give Oldman huge kudos for having the steely, commanding screen presence to pull of what could have been a completely bland character.

The most surprising performance for me was from Mark Strong, though. It seems like Strong has made a career out of playing villains in blockbusters like Kick-Ass and Sherlock Holmes. I’ve seen him in at least half a dozen films, and while he’s always fine, he’s never made much of an impression on me. But he is brilliant in this movie. From the first 10 seconds of his performance, I knew that this was a different Mark Strong. He plays a British intelligence agent sent on a mission to Hungary, and he shows such a range of emotions and a great amount of soulfulness. This could easily have been a throwaway character, but Strong inhabits every inch of this role. I wouldn’t have thought that Strong would suit this type of movie, but he actually gives my favourite performance in the film, and one of my favourite Supporting Actor performances of the year.

Tom Hardy is also very charismatic as Ricki Tarr, a British agent accused of betrayal. It’s nice to see his character get a personal story arc, since much of the rest of the film is centered around the characters’ professional endeavours.

That’s actually one issue that I had with the film. It would have been nice to bring a little more warmth to the story and some of the characters. Of course, this film is all about the mystery, rather than the character study, but a little back story would help it feel less dry.

However, that’s not to say that it’s a boring movie. Quite the opposite, even if the pace is a bit slow. Alfredson is an expert at building tension, and the screenplay is taught enough to prevent Tinker Tailor from dragging. This movie would be worth seeing for the performances alone, so the fact that it’s also a beautifully shot, well-constructed thriller is just a bonus.

8/10