PIGEON TUNNEL, THE
(director/writer: Errol Morris; screenwriter: John Le Carre; cinematographer: Igor Martinovic; editor: Steven Hathaway ; music: Philip Glass, Paul Leonard-Morgan; cast: John Le Carre (self), John Le Carre aka David Cornwell, Jake Dove (teenage David Cornwell), Charlotte Hamblin (Olive Cornwell), Alan Mehdizadel (Big Man), Garry Cooper (Ronnie Cornwell), Simon Harrison (Kim Philby), Arlo Dodgson (young David Cornwell), Errol Morris; Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Errol Morris, Steven Hathaway, Stephen Cornwell, Dominic Crossley-Holland, Simon Cornwell; Apple TV+; 2023)
“Exceptional documentary on John Le Carre but with limits.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The noted filmmaker/documentarian Errol Morris (“The Fog of War”/”The Thin Blue Line”) is writer/director of this exceptional documentary on John Le Carre but with limits. We get to meet Le Carre when interviewed over a four-day period in 2019 (his longest interview with the media). In the interview he’s playfully cautious and does not reveal his writing secrets. Aside from Le Carre’s appearance, the no-nonsense documentary features archival footage, clips from TV and movie adaptions of Le Carre’s work and dramatizations on the subject. It was co-produced by the spy novelist’s sons Stephen and Simon Cornwell.
The former British spy David Cornwell, who is best known as the celebrated novelist John Le Carre, died in December 2020. He previously agreed to take part in the documentary his friend Errol Morris was making of him, and gave the film his blessings and his final interview (which was gentle but got intense in spots). Le Carre provides candid insights into the writing of his espionage fiction, points out how the world changes in politics over the years has radically altered how the genre viewed spies, reveals that his complex relationship with his con man jailbird father Ronnie led to many of his story-lines and his interest in being a spy, and he also freely comments on his 2016 memoir.
The title is derived from the time the father took his teenager son David with him on a business trip to the south of France and stayed in a hotel by the Mediterranean. The hotel bred pigeons on its roof and would shove them through a specially built tunnel for them to fly out of, whereby Ronnie could shoot them. The title suggests that in real life people are like the pigeons in the tunnel.
It’s a don’t miss film for Le Carre fans. For others it should also be a fascinating watch that’s both illuminating and captivating.
REVIEWED ON 12/25/2023 GRADE: A