“The Pigeon Tunnel”
Rotten Tomatoes (3/5), Metacritic (6/10), Letterboxd (3/5), Imdb.com (6/10), TMDB.com (3/5)
Getting inside the head of a spy is undoubtedly challenging; getting inside the head of a novelist who was once a spy who now writes about that enigmatic profession is nearly impossible. And that’s one of the hurdles that hampers this profile of former MI5 and MI6 operative David Cornwell, better known to the world by his pen name, John le Carré (1931-2020). Based on the author’s memoir of the same name, the latest from documentarian Errol Morris puts the best-selling espionage novelist under the microscope, seeking to discover who le Carré is, what factors impacted his life and writings, and how his novels mirror those influences in terms of content and themes. Through discussions of books like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Smiley’s People, A Perfect Spy and The Looking Glass War, backed by clips of film and television adaptations of these works, le Carré and Morris ruminate on the writer’s objectives in bringing them to life, some of them personal in nature and some of them expressions of his feelings about the murky underworld he left behind and brought to life on the printed page. Much of what the author consequently discusses comes across as dark, cryptic, and characterized by rampant intrigue and betrayal, not unlike the life he left behind (as well as the dismal upbringing he underwent at the knee of his untrustworthy father, a professional swindler adept at plying his craft). The insights, to say the least, are rather depressing and disquieting. But that unsettling material is further compounded by a string of often-perplexing observations about le Carré’s existential outlooks and literary intentions, some of which seemingly amount to little more than oh so much navel gazing and intellectual masturbation, overstated attempts at encapsulating his perspectives on human nature and human relations as reflected through his works. I can imagine that there’s probably a market for a film like this among Anglophiles captivated by the writer’s works, the spy novel genre in general and PBS/BBC television dramas, but it really didn’t do much for me, especially since this offering pales in comparison to many of Morris’s other better productions. Thankfully, the picture’s merciful 1:32:00 runtime proved to be its saving grace (even though the picture admittedly improves once it gets past an overly long, excessively detailed prologue). Ironically, le Carré notes in the film that he sees his novels as an antidote to the James Bond books and movies, but, from where I stand, I’ll take 007 over this any day.