Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011 StudioCanal/Working Title Films)
In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6.
Starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Tom Hardy.
Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner & Robyn Slovo. Screenplay by Brittany O’Connor & Peter Straughan. Based on the novel by John le Carré.
I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that films adapted from novels I’ve never read are going to leave me in the dark on about 60 percent of what the hell is going on in the movie version of the story. At least that’s how I felt coming out of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a masterpiece on its own level, but even I was aware there’s only so much the director is going to be able to tell me. C’est la vie, I suppose.
Set in Europe in the early 1970s, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy opens with a disheveled, old spy named Control—portrayed brilliantly by John Hurt in his too-few scenes—summoning a charge to carry out a dangerous mission in Budapest. The mission: find the mole. From there, the story of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy unfolds in nonlinear fashion, moving back and forth through time with little indication of where you are in the story. Well, Smiley’s glasses are the giveaway as to whether we’re in the past or the present.
True to what you’d expect from a novel adaptation, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s characters all have a depth that simply cannot be conveyed in a two-hour movie. Director Tomas Alfredson keeps it tied together somewhat, but everything is such a sprint that the big payoff moments leave you more with a meh feeling than a crescendo. Thus was the case for most of the movie. Despite all the quick turns from present to past back to present and again, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sort of plodded along the trail. This long, slow windup just didn’t deliver the big Ah-Ha! moment I was hoping for.
Having not read the book, I felt at a decided disadvantage to those fanbois on the Internet fawning over this movie.
Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, a former agent drummed out of “the Circus” along with Control over a botched mission. Oldman’s Smiley is an icy, expressionless figure who commands respect and a little fear from those he meets.
While Oldman’s performance certainly is worthy of an Oscar nomination, I was most taken by two supporting performances. Tom Hardy (yes, that Tom Hardy) and Benedict Cumberbatch deliver two of the most powerful performances in the film. Hardy, as the elusive Ricki Tarr, is nerve wracking as an exposed agent with nowhere to hide. As Peter Guillam, the loyal operative to Smiley, Cumberbatch is intriguing and engaging. He, by far, brings the most emotion and suspense into Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Quite a feat in a movie boasting Oldman and Colin Firth. Firth, by the way, is solid as Bill Haydon. But the ensemble nature of Tinker sort of drowns him out. Honestly, I forgot he was in the movie, at times.
I liked this movie, but mostly felt relieved when it was over. Not because it was an emotional rollercoaster, but because I was able to finally put all the pieces together at the very end. Like I said, nonlinear storytelling can be great. But sometimes it’s a distraction. In the case of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy—a very elaborate, intricate, highly-detailed story—it served more as a distraction. But the performances were great. My advice: pay close attention and take note.
RATING: *** (out of 5)