Review: The Pigeon Tunnel is quintessentially Errol Morris, showcasing the director’s ability to distill complexity into a compelling narrative. While it may pose a learning curve for those unfamiliar with le Carré’s world, fans of Morris’ work should undoubtedly relish the opportunity to immerse themselves in this layered exploration he’s put together.
Errol Morris, the master documentarian whose work spans nearly half a century, once again unravels the winding threads of an extraordinary life in The Pigeon Tunnel, now available to stream on Apple TV+. This time, Morris dives into the captivating life and career of David Cornwell, the former MI5 spy who became the iconic author known to the world as John le Carré. As a viewer who may be too young to fully grasp the profound impact of le Carré’s contributions to both espionage and literature, The Pigeon Tunnel served as a captivating portal into the life of a man who lived on the fringes of secrecy and storytelling.
The documentary unfolds as a rich, sprawling portrait, weaving together the personal and professional lives of John le Carré. From his early days that were fraught with family tension, to his later years as a celebrated writer, the film navigates the many depths of le Carré’s experiences with elegance and insight. At its core, The Pigeon Tunnel is a testament to the complex interplay between reality and fiction, a theme that echoes throughout le Carré’s espionage novels, and the documentary style of Errol Morris.
Le Carré, who passed away in 2020, emerges as the central narrator and interviewee, effortlessly stealing the show with his cool, nonchalant delivery. His every word resonates with a depth of experience, providing a firsthand account of a life that often mirrored the intrigue of his novels. Errol Morris, a maestro in extracting compelling narratives from his subjects, seamlessly pairs his signature style with le Carré’s captivating presence.
The dedication of the documentary to le Carré takes on added poignancy, as it serves as a testament to Morris’s ability to capture the essence of a subject in the final moments of their life. The film becomes more than a retrospective; it transforms into a tribute to a literary giant who bared his soul to Morris’ lens.
Errol Morris’ usual meticulous reenactments, sharp and clean, align perfectly with the expectations set by his previous works. Each frame reaffirms his commitment to visual storytelling, creating an atmosphere that is both captivating and haunting. The director remains dedicated to his craft, infusing The Pigeon Tunnel with an undeniable sense of intrigue, even when the subject matter becomes complex and intricate.
The documentary’s breakneck pace through le Carré’s life, while occasionally tedious, is navigated well by Morris. The complexity of the narrative, stemming in many directions and involving a myriad of people, could easily have become an impenetrable web. Still, Morris skillfully stitches it together, offering a coherent arch that might challenge audiences unfamiliar with the intricacies of le Carré’s life.
At the heart of The Pigeon Tunnel is the exploration of the art of interview as a form of performance. Le Carré, acknowledging the inherent theatricality of being interviewed, engages in a captivating dance with Morris. The filmmaker and his subject become a sophisticated and complementary duo, delving into the depths of understanding and deciphering each other. The film becomes a performance art piece in itself, a vast conversation between the interviewer and the interviewee.
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Towards the end of the documentary, Morris expresses concern about the impossibility of encapsulating the entirety of le Carré’s life in a mere 90 minutes. Le Carré, in his characteristically calming wisdom, reassures Morris, acknowledging the inherent limitations of such a task. It’s a poignant moment that encapsulates the humility and complexity of le Carré’s persona.
The Pigeon Tunnel is quintessentially Errol Morris, showcasing the director’s ability to distill complexity into a compelling narrative. While it may pose a learning curve for those unfamiliar with le Carré’s world, fans of Morris’ work should undoubtedly relish the opportunity to immerse themselves in this layered exploration he’s put together. The movie, much like its subject, refuses to be neatly categorized or confined.
The Pigeon Tunnel is a mesmerizing journey into the life of a man who expanded the worlds of espionage and literature. It’s Errol Morris being exactly who he is, unapologetically and masterfully capturing the essence of a literary giant. While the documentary may not be the most accessible for those uninitiated into the realm of John le Carré, it stands as another example of Morris’s ability to elevate complex narratives into captivating visual and intellectual experiences.
Stream The Pigeon Tunnel on Apple TV+
Film Cast and Credits
John le Carré as Self / David Cornwell
Errol Morris as Self
Director: Errol Morris
Writer: Errol Morris