John Le Carré’s acclaimed bestselling novel about a Cold War spy on one final, dangerous mission, played by Richard Burton in a career-defining performance, is every bit as precise and ruthless on-screen in this adaptation directed by Martin Ritt.
This film is not currently playing on MUBI but 30 other great films are. See what's now showing
The Spy Who Came in from the ColdDirected byMartin Ritt
When remembering this is around the James Bond era it really exposes the concept of the Spy being the person in control. In fact they are the pawns, chewed up and spat out for the use of a political cause. Very nice movie, not overplayed, some nice shots and an interesting addition to a usually hammed up subject.
A superb film. In terms of pacing and atmosphere, I could definitely see the influence it had on something like last year's Tinker Tailor. It is a bit of a time capsule, but if you have an interest in the era, it's about as good as Cold War espionage flicks get. It moves slowly, but the tension rapidly begins to build once things take off. And the b&w cinematography is gorgeous. Ritt's best, in my opinion.
Le Carre wasn't happy with this adaptation, particularly the casting of Burton, but this, to my eyes, is a perfect rendition of the book. The drab essence of the spy world is captured better here, than in any other film. In a superb cast the standout is Oskar Werner. I like to think that Burton/Leamas lived on in that totalitarian world and gradually emerged as Burton/O'Brien in 1984. These two films belong together.
Ritt's filmmaking proved to be the perfect companion to LeCarrés exquisite source material, doting the picture with an intriguing atmosphere and an exceptional sense of pace. The camera moves subtly to great effect and, perhaps, it's even better when it doesn't, holding on the faces that carry the weight of the world. It's also a wonderfully tragic romance powered by Burton's intensity and Bloom's magnetism.
Burton is at his lumpen, taciturn worst, but the marvellous Oskar Werner and that sharp cinematography by Oswald Morris (outdoing the first shot of Welles's "Touch Of Evil") help at least partly to make up for the gloom.
This movie is just about perfect; the whole thing just feels so advanced, so ahead of its time, and I am constantly impressed with what Ritt was able to accomplish. Truly a gem of cinema, one that should not be missed. Seek it out, if you haven't seen it.
So, the black & white photography is stunning, the performances are riveting, and the last 25 minutes are genuinely gripping. But so much of at least the first 70 minutes of the film felt like treading water, rather than careful character building. And so, as much as I was actually really looking forward to watching the film despite my lack of enthusiasm for the genre, I was rather disappointed.