Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

It’s that time of the year again in Belgium. The Ghent Film Festival started October 11 and will run until October 22. I try to attend at least one showing every year and this time around, I picked Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

I am a big John le Carré fan. With his somber, low key approach to espionage, he is the counter pole to Ian Fleming’s relatively simple approach to the genre. Le Carré’s spies are lonely figures in moral limbo, plowing their way through red tape and navigating themselves through muddy political waters. The charm of le Carré is his complicated intrigues that are slowly unraveled while the personal lives of his characters fall apart as well. Would Tomas Alfredson, the Swedish director of Let The Right One In, be able to recreate the dense atmosphere and complexities of le Carré’s writing or Would Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy be a mere diluted decoction?


The story of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy boils down to the hunt on a Russian mole at the head of the British intelligence service. Control (John Hurt) and George Smiley (Gary Oldman) are shoved out of the picture after an operation to unmask the mole goes badly. Yet one year later Smiley, along with a few confidants of his, is determined to uncover the identity of the double spy. There are four suspects who are known under the following code names: tinker, tailor, soldier, and poor man.

My biggest fears before I watched this film were that firstly, the story would be too complicated to follow (the book is quite complicated) and secondly, that there would be no emotional binding agent between all the intrigues and the characters. There has to be a reason to look at the characters as more than just pons that are used to make the story move forward. As to my first concern, I found that the big picture was clear at the end and that the story was evenly paced. My girlfriend thought it was a bit complicated and some of the details flew over her head, probably because she hasn’t read the book. So be prepared when you watch this one for the first time. You cannot turn your brain off and just gaze at the screen, waiting for bursts of action and flat jokes. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a film that demands a level of cerebral effort from its viewers and those who make the effort will be rewarded accordingly, even if they don’t understand everything on their first viewing.


As to my second concern, that emotional layer is present, albeit subtle. It might be a bit too subtle, thus running the risk of it not being noticed by the viewer. In le Carré’s world, there is an involuntary loneliness that comes with being a spy, because they live a life where they can’t trust anyone and everyone carries a bunch of secrets that they aren’t allowed to share with anyone, not even the people closest to them. As a result, the job is very stressing for one’s personal life. These themes run throughout the entire film in the form of Smiley’s failed marriage and the implied homosexual relationships of others. This stifling atmosphere of loneliness and desolation is subtly palpable throughout every scene, but because it isn’t rendered explicit, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy runs the risk of being perceived as a bit too dry and soulless. I myself thought this was executed to perfection, but my girl believed it to have a negative effect on her viewing experience because she didn’t really care for the characters.

A big part of that atmosphere comes from the splendid cinematography. London in the year 1973 is filled with crumbling buildings, rain, earthy colours, dark clothing and ever-present cigarette fumes. Everything seems to be used up, at the end of its life. And this fits in perfectly with the story and the characters.


The acting performances followed the rule of less being more. Gary Oldman portrays Smiley as a silent, almost immovable presence who watches, listens, but remains silent. However, when Oldman does get the chance to show a little emotion, he does so appropriately. His monologue about the Russian mastermind Karla is an impressive piece of acting. Gary is surrounded by the top of the British acting world: Colin Firth, Ciàran Hinds, John Hurt, but it was rising star Tom Hardy who made the biggest impression on me with an intense, nervous portrayal of his character that serves as a beautiful antithesis to Oldman’s reserved, calm character.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a calculated, methodical film, a real slow-burner. But if you pay attention and have your mind firing on all cylinders, you will get drawn in and enjoy this one tremendously. In a year that is marred so far by mediocre early releases and a poor blockbuster season, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is easily one of the very best of the year.

+



I found Hardy to be the weakest acting link in it. But that, along with most my faults with the film, come from having read the book. Ricki's role is so diluted from the other versions that his character seemed a bit uneven, veering from laconic to breaking without developing his character enough to support the range. I was going to ask if you (or your g/f) felt the casting made the mole a little too obvious? I need to give it a second watch, removed from the any preconceptions from the book.

I definitely loved the cinematography also and having now watched the BBC serial, I think Oldman may have trumped Guinness. I particularly liked the added scenes of him in the lake, calm and collected above water but working furiously below the water and out of sight. I thought they developed the relationship with Haydon, Ann and Smiley well enough to create the emotional resonance needed. And Cumberbatch gave a fantastically likeable performance.
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28 days...6 hours...42 minutes...12 seconds
Looking forward to this!!! Thanks for your thoughts, both of you.
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Suspect's Reviews



I found Hardy to be the weakest acting link in it. But that, along with most my faults with the film, come from having read the book. Ricki's role is so diluted from the other versions that his character seemed a bit uneven, veering from laconic to breaking without developing his character enough to support the range. I was going to ask if you (or your g/f) felt the casting made the mole a little too obvious? I need to give it a second watch, removed from the any preconceptions from the book.
Hmm, maybe a wee bit, but overall it didn't bother me because the plot is very well developed here. My girl had no clue as to who the mole was and was genuinely surprised.

Yeah, I mentioned my girlfriend a lot in the review, simply because she presents the view of someone who isn't familiar with John le Carré's writing or the specific novel on which the film is based. Most of the times, the people who've read the books have issues with the film and the people who didn't love the film. With me and my girl though, it was the other way around.



I only referenced your g/f for an insight on her perspective, I think it's a fair shout with a film like this as the two audiences are going to have very different experiences. I only felt confused where I was comparing it to the novel and looking for bits or linking scenarios that weren't there.



We've gone on holiday by mistake
I think the Bourne Supremacy was a better mole hunt, Joan Allen, Brian Cox and Matt Damon doing a better job than Tinker Tailor.

I will probably read the book as I felt the movie didn't quite live up to my expectations. A little slow and not so easy to follow. This may change with second or third viewings.

7/10



I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
This is the best film I have seen in a long, long time.

The acting was brilliant (although I agree with Pyro that Hardy was the weak link), the direction excellent. Period detail, emotional understatement, some dry humour, suspense, all good.

The thing that I liked was that it almost didn't matter who the mole was. That wasn't the point of the film. The film didn't feel the need to put in a twist shock ending to prove its cleverness and it was all the better for it.



I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
It's not on general release any more but you might find it at a small cinema or theatre still. It's on dvd 30th January. I want to watch it again too. I saw a trailer for the new Mission Impossible film on Friday and it just made me appreciate the subtlety of Tinker Tailor all the more.



Saw this in the cinema recently and althoug I hadn't seen the BBC serial or read the book, I enjoyed it. Throws you in at the deep end from the beggining but all is revealed. Oldman is very good s is the remainder of the cast.



The Drunk and Happy
This movie was A Toast for me!
Verdict: The performances in Tinker, Tailor are great. The film is visually excellent. You will be hard pushed to find a film that is as tense, intelligent and engaging. And I don’t just mean this year. If you can think of a better, similar film since All the President’s Men, let me know, because I can’t. So go and see this.



Sorry Harmonica.......I got to stay here.
The first time I saw this a few years back I was bored out of my mind. Then recently I heard a fascinating interview with John Le Carre on NPR, so I watched it again. I liked it this time, but had some trouble following. I have a feeling my third watch is going to be even more enjoyable!
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Loved this movie thanks! British films are teh R0x0r!

Don't forget to check out Atomic Blonde (2017). Its a winner too!