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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is true to say that Smiley is no Bourne nor Bond but Tinker Tailor
Soldier Spy is a beautifully played and observed spy film. Should you
expect car chases, spills, thrills, gadgets galore and
closely-choreographed fight scenes then you WILL be disappointed.
Set in smoke-filled, sepia-tinged 1970s, the film centres around the uncovering of a mole 'right at the top of the circus'. The 'circus' is the British Intelligence Services and is made up of a who's who of British acting talent - Firth, Hinds, Cumberbatch, Hardy, Strong and Hurt. For the most part, the action takes place in the brown-suited and wall-papered world of England but we are given brief glimpses of the spy territory in Budapest, Paris and Istanbul. Smiley, played inscrutably by Oldman, is tasked with uncovering the mole and is ably assisted by Guillam, the ever-watchable Cumberbatch.
Admittedly this is a slow-burn of a film, full of meaningful looks, pregnant pauses and one that hints at deeper and more complex plot strands but it has an authentic air and it is a fascinating to observe a build-up of tension and cold-war paranoia which culminates in a dramatic if subdued fashion. Being slightly too young to have watched the original Alec Guiness TV series, I cannot make any direct comparisons and I imagine that a TV series allows much more time for plot and character development. The film must be judged on its own merits, and whilst I am sure that this will not be to many mainstream movie-goers' tastes, it is one for those who are looking for a film of a different type, time and pace.
Forty-six year old Swedish director Tomas Alfredson came to prominence
three years ago when he directed the film adaptation of John Ajvide
Lindqvist's novel 'Let The Right One In'. After the initial success of
the vampiric romantic drama, Alfredson became attached to an
international adaptation of John le Carre's espionage-novel 'Tinker,
Tailor, Soldier, Spy'. Based on aspects of le Carre's (also known as
David Cornwell) experiences during his time as a member of the British
Intelligence service sectors MI5 and MI6 during the 1950s and 1960s,
Alfredson creates a fine, absorbing picture which engrosses from
beginning to end.
Control (John Hurt), the leader of an unknown sector of the British Intelligence service, is ousted along with his long-standing companion George Smiley (Gary Oldman) due to a botched operation in Budapest, Hungary which saw the officer Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) murdered in public. Control was under the impression that there was a mole among the top ranking members of the service, referred to as the Circus by the other top ranking members due to its location in Cambridge Circus, London, and Smiley is drawn out of retirement to pinpoint the culprit after Control passes away. Alongside the young Intelligence officer Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), Smiley has four primary candidates to focus his investigation upon; they are the last remaining members of the Circus, Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik).
Utilizing an all-star, established cast, Alfredson allows the film to unfold at an almost flawless pace. Every sequence contains a small snippet of information which allows the viewer to conduct their own investigation alongside that of Smiley's. While the narrative is also driven along by strong performances from the primarily male cast, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik, Stephen Graham and Kathy Burke all give strong, commanding performances. While the true artists of the piece are Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the young, and somewhat naive intelligent officer assigned to assist Smiley. John Hurt as the aging, instinct-driven leader of the British service, and Tom Hardy, who is Ricki Tarr the dirty cleaner for British intelligence's most fowl operations. Their performances go above and beyond in their supporting roles, and at times eclipse Gary Oldman's subdued portrayal of a man drawn back into the murky world of corruption, betrayal and treasure.
Alongside the narrative and its cast, one of the more surprising aspects of the film, is Alfredson, Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and Editor Dino Jonsater's use of stylistic nuances that further enhance the viewing experience. Lingering close-up shots of seemingly insignificant objects and shallow focus shots constantly evoke the nature of mystery and intrigue which surrounds such clandestine organisations. Alfredson never rushes any moment, instead he allows for the audience to become accustomed to their surroundings and appreciate their beauty. Wide angle shots and long lenses are used for interior and exterior locations, showcasing the breakdowns of their interiors, while close-up shots are used to examine objects and characters in their most frail states. During the opening sequence involving Prideaux's botched secret mission, a simple concoction of jump cuts and lingering static shots concentrating upon various characters within the vicinity creates a sense of the tension, suspense and vulnerability of the situation and this is how Alfredson constantly keeps the audience engrossed. By providing those observing the action on screen with just enough information that they themselves become entwined within Smiley's investigation as he moves forward.
Once the credits and a dedication to the films screenwriter Bridget O'Connor who passed away last year finish, the viewer is left with an overriding sense of satisfaction. Smiley's world is a far cry away from the glitz and glamour that the espionage genre has become accustomed to. There are no martinis in sight, but only reel upon reel of bureaucratic wrangling, childish bickering and greed-induced deal-making, where it seems everybody is working for themselves and their reputation rather than the nation's government that is employing them. Since its premiere at the 68th Venice International Film Festival 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' has been touted as an Oscar contender and it is easy to understand why, Tomas Alfredson has taken a solid source novel, utilized an established cast and infused the final concoction with elements from his own visual repertoire to create a wonderfully crafted film that does the original BBC televised series justice.
I have been eagerly awaiting this production for a long time and have not been disappointed. Never have I seen such a compilation of such fabulous performances together. No way is this another James Bond, it is how the world of espionage was, and is today. No car chases in Aston Martins or gadgets but a world of seedy little offices and the grim reality of this genre. What had the greatest impact on myself was the slow deep menace conveyed by all. Difficult to single out any one performance as all were amazing but I particularly admired Gary Oldman, Mark Strong and Tom Hardy for their work. At times this film has some unexpected moments of shocking cruelty. Complex character portrayal is presented in a slow deep style that only inspires you to know more about the person. The story itself is a classic and known by many, yet this production introduces a few changes which work well. One of the most absorbing and classy movies I have seen and has left a lasting impact on me. Please, please, please, make Smiley's People now.
Boldly announcing himself upon the stage of international cinema with
2009's Let the Right One In, the significant critical and commercial
acclaim accorded director Thomas Alfredson clearly proved him a
filmmaker capable of pulling off high quality adaptations of complex
and dark literary sources.
Called back into service to uncover the identity of a Soviet mole at the height of the Cold War, retired British intelligence operative George Smiley is tasked with unwinding a vastly convoluted web of conspiracy, codenames, double agents, and deceit.
The movement from relatively low-budget foreign language filmmaking to helming star casts in comparably costly productions is one that, historically, holds significant risk for directorial careers. Add to the mix the danger of bringing a much-loved novel to life on screen, and Alfredson is certainly faced with a substantial task. An espionage thriller, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spybased on John le Carré's bookthrows an extremely layered narrative at its audience and insists they keep up, making little in the way of allowance for those accustomed to excess plot exposition. Concerning an approximate dozen key charactersmost of whom go by at least two namesthe film contains a considerable quantity of raw information to be processed, particularly considering its reserved pace; the camera scrolls slowly across the screen in step with the story's measured progression, constantly moving along yet never losing the integral tension of its hastelessness. Alfredson and screenwriters Bridget O' Connor and Peter Straughan demonstrate a keenness for the more tensely-oriented end of the genre, delving into an atmosphere of unease rather than one of brisk spy action. There is almost an air of claustrophobia to much of the film, the caliginous cinematography and mysterious score combining to evoke an aura of noir paranoia. Much like Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy boasts a thrilling visual panache; indeed, Hoyte van Hoytema's cinematography is oftentimes so remarkably involving that entire scenes may pass by without any absorption of the dialogical details disclosed thereinthe brain is simply too overcome by the aesthetic bombardment of visual pleasure to decipher the explicit aural signals. One particular shotan extreme close-up of Smiley's wearied face draped in shadow affords the audience the time to study the furrowed ridges of his forehead and the weighted bags of his eyelids, giving us an entitled sense of knowledge of, and familiarity with, this character. It seems almost redundant to offer praise to the film's extraordinary cast; a brief glance at the list of exemplary names will disclose the sheer calibre of talent on display: a veritable dream team of the finest names of modern British cinema. From Firth to Hurt, Hardy to Cumberbatch, Oldman to Dencik, the phenomenal cast plays beautifully together, each actor inhabiting their character with award-courting flair. Where Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy really shines is in its characterisationan all-too often underutilised aspect in this genreeach of them distinctly human rather than simply mouths through which the plot developments are channelled. Their primary concern may be with their espionage, but ours is with them: exploring their motivations; their private lives; their loyalties; and just how a career like theirs affects an existence. A recurring Christmas party scene revisited a number of times throughout the film reminds us regularly that these intelligence agents are not solely extensions of the government's facilities, but rather human beings with emotions, afflicted by the agonies of their toils, burying themselves in vodka-laced punch to just get away from it all.
Hitting all the right notes in its performances, script, and direction, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy triumphantly infuses a challengingly multifarious narrative with a deeper humanity, questioning by proxy the way in which devotion to duty affects all aspects of our lives. Shot with unforgettable effulgencecommitting to memory eternal every last contour of Oldman's storied browit is a genuine achievement in cinematic storytelling.
It really is interesting to read the above reviews. I've just come back from seeing it and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I wondered if for people who hadn't read the book or seen the TV series it would make sense, and obviously it doesn't. It also doesn't fit the change in perception that the current generation have needing an edit at least every 5 seconds and a linear storyline, that's not ageist, just what we in a much older generation have left as our inheritance, sadly. I really enjoyed the film references whether they are intentional or not, they range from Rear Window to La Nuit Americaine to Mr Bean's Holiday to Godard. Gary Oldman as Smiley is very good, much colder that AG and as in the book a bit younger. It is also less of the feel of a group of Oxbridge Dons in charge rather ex servicemen as MI5 was in those days. I was in my 20's in the early 1970's and the general dullness of everything during that time comes through very well. I would think that after they edited it they wished they hadn't had some rather crass graffiti so prominent, but I remember it was all over London at that time. Good film with a plot that makes you concentrate and you have to use your brain, well worth seeing, but don't go if you want thrills and spills.
I have not read the book nor seen the 1979 landmark series that
garnered so much acclaim for the BBC and Sir Alec Guinness, but such
contextualisation is not needed to recognise that this version of
'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' is a masterful re-telling of John le
Carré's seminal work about British espionage during the Cold War. An
early scene really encapsulates the whole tone and mood of the film. A
retired George Smiley (played majestically by Gary Oldman) is sitting
at home and enjoying a documentary about Winston Churchill (which seems
suitably apt for a man of his former position) when his doorbell
suddenly and unexpectedly rings. His head turns slowly to the left in
the direction of the impudent sound and the instantaneous look of sheer
effrontery and disdain on Oldman's face will leave you chuckling as his
peaceful reverie is rudely disturbed. Such scenes like this leaven the
film with humour but ultimately this is a chamber piece; expertly
played by the cream of British acting talent headed by Goldman and Hurt
(who incidentally could also have been a great George Smiley) and told
with a languid verve that unravels the complex plotting in a series of
tableaux vivants laden with mystery and suspense, but which also acts
as important plot points and clues.
The film is about the hunt for a Soviet 'mole' in the highest echelons of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6 but fictitiously known as 'The Circus') by George Smiley, an intelligence officer who has been brought out of forced retirement by Oliver Lacon, the Civil Service overseer of the Circus. Through a love affair with the wife of a Russian intelligence officer, a British agent, Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) discovers that there may be a high ranking Soviet mole within the Circus. Aided by Peter Guillam (Bendedict Cumberbatch) who is Tarr's handler, Smiley sets about uncovering the mole without the knowledge of Circus leadership, anyone of whom might be the mole, headed by Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) and his deputies Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) the 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' of the book (codenames assigned by Control, Head of British Secret Service).
The director, Tomas Alfredson, established his reputation with 'Let the Right One In', an icy Swedish romantic horror that dealt with relationships and this too, is a film about human nature, moral dilemmas and relationships friendship, loyalty and betrayal on intimate and grand scales with personal and national implications. Like 'Let the Right One In' Alfredson imbues 'Tinker, Tailor', Soldier, Spy' (his first English language feature) with somnambulistic pacing and mood that requires the audience to be patient, but this is richly rewarded with scenes, shot after shot, that ravish the eye and heavy with period atmosphere and drama. James Bond this is not and George Smiley has more in common with Harry Palmer than Ian Fleming's vigorous secret agent. Indeed, Robert De Niro's admirable treatment of the early history of the Criminal Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 'The Good Shepherd' (2006) has a similar cipher in Edward Wilson a 'grey man' whose very ordinariness renders him invisible to counter espionage and thus makes him the perfect intelligence operative. A raised voice towards the end of 'Tinker, Tailor' is as excited as Smiley gets but for those not familiar with the story the ending will leave you with a broad smile of satisfaction as the 'grey man' (note Smiley's grey hair, grey countenance and grey suit replete with over-sized glasses and shambling gait) of the secret intelligence service wins the day.
The screenwriters, Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O'Connor, have done an exceptional job in condensing down what is clearly a labyrinthine Cold War thriller into a classic two hour potboiler without losing any of its exposition, characters, and plotting. John le Carré and his fans will be proud. This is a thinking man's film about a period of recent history that is as murky as it is exciting and relevant today with its eternal themes of friendship, loyalty and national security. There must be many more stories of espionage to mine from both sides of the Iron Curtain and I do hope this film kick starts a renewed interest in telling the stories of the Cold War warriors who shaped the modern world. If the film does 'King's Speech' levels of business I think it just might and Hollywood would be the richer for it.
There is a certain snobbery with films that require more than a small
amount of attention an opinion that if you even ask about a small
detail that you missed that you should then go watch Transformers and
leave real films to the grownups. It is unpleasant superiority and it
is mostly undeserved because to be honest this is a hard film to follow
and it does demand attention. Those wishing to insult me via private
message can do so, but I did struggle several times to understand how
things fitted together and what relevance certain scenes had. This
didn't limit my enjoyment of the film though and mostly I still
followed the broad stroke of the plot, even if some bits of it did lose
I've not read the tome of a book or seen the BBC mini-series, so I can't comment how well it compresses down to this two-hour film, but for me it did at times seem to be cramming a lot into a small time and occasionally it felt like it was unnecessarily convoluted or confusing. If you stay with it as best you can, it is intriguing and rather dramatic considering that much of the film is people talking to one another as opposed to chases and gun fights. The success of this is mostly down to the atmosphere and tone created by director Alfredson, because there is a constant tension to the film cold perhaps, but very tense at times, certainly not bored even if it can look that way from a distance.
This is not what he does best though, because to there was an aspect to the film that was excellent and this was the feeling of outdatedness, of an unnecessary function and a pointless "war". This feeling is in the characters, in the set-decoration and in every shot. The men we follow had the height of their import many years ago now it appears they are mainly fighting their equal numbers on the other side simply because they exist. I really liked this overarching sense of smallness that sat across the film and I enjoyed finding it being employed in even the smallest detail in the attitude of a minor character through to the cheap "do not unplug" text scrawled on the wall (those that work in older offices will know this feeling). Alfredson is bang on the money with this feeling, it is part of the story and it is brilliantly delivered throughout.
Speaking of brilliant delivery, the cast is deep in British talent and unsurprisingly they deliver. Oldman may not have won the Oscar but he is great here working with restraint and doing so much. He does so much with minor reactions and movements and he is a great character. He is the lead here but alongside him is a cast that is hard not to just list Cumberbach, Hurt, Jones, Firth, Burke, Graham, Hardy and so on; British all perhaps but it says a lot that almost all of the supporting players here will be recognised internationally. Everyone gives strong performances and everyone seems to understand what Alfredson is doing.
Overall, this is a great film albeit one that is not as easy to follow as those impatient snobs would have you believe. It is OK to struggle with some aspects and it is still easy to enjoy the film. The plot engaged me but what stayed with me more than anything else was how it all seemed so unimportant, how those involved were all working to ignore the irrelevance of their work and how very tired this world seemed this aspect was very well done and made the film as much as Oldman's strong central performance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
¨It's the oldest question of all, George. Who can spy on the spies? ¨
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy might just be my favorite movie of the year. Director Tomas Alfredson caught my attention a few years ago with his Swedish film Let the Right One in, which in my opinion is the best vampire film I've seen. This is a very different movie, but he still uses very similar techniques. He shoots several shots from a distance which sort of sets the mood of the story dealing with espionage, the setting is also very dark and grayish, and the story moves at a pretty slow pace, but at the same time the mystery and thrills are always there. This is how a spy thriller should be made; it's about as realistic as any spy film could ever be. I'm sorry for all those Mission Impossible, James Bond, and Jason Bourne fans, but this is a far more superior thriller. Perhaps the action isn't as entertaining or as easy to follow, but if you stick with this movie and put your complete attention specifically on these characters the result is truly satisfying. This isn't a popcorn movie you can watch while you're doing something else; you have to devote time and attention to it. My greatest fear is that viewers are becoming so numbed by mindless action scenes and special effects that we don't even want to think about a movie while we're watching it. Sometimes we just want to feel entertained, but we're not willing to spend time focusing on the story and what is going on. We want everything put in front of us and don't want to try to discover things on our own. If that is the case then Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is not the movie for you, but if you are into a well crafted mystery thriller than you will be in for a pleasant surprise like I was. This was one of the greatest viewing experiences I've had this year.
The movie takes place during the Cold War and its set in 1973 London. One of the head members of the British Intelligence Service, named Control (John Hurt), sends one of his agents (Mark Strong) on a special mission to Budapest. Control tells Jim that he received important and confidential information about one of his four top spies being a mole, which would explain why the Russians have been up to date with what is going on in England. Control's four head spies are Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds), and Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), and he believes one of them is the mole. Control evens suspects his right hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), so he orders Jim to go to Budapest and meet with his contact to find out who the traitor is. He has a code name for each one of the spies (tinker, tailor, soldier, and poorman). When Jim arrives at Budapest the mission goes wrong and it's clear to Control that the traitor has found out and blown the mission once again. Control is forced to retire after the Budapest fiasco along with George Smiley. A year later Control passes away and one of the British ministers hires Smiley to discover who the mole is after he receives a phone call from a disappeared agent named Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) who claims to have information about the traitor. Smiley begins investigating with the help of another agent named Benedict Cumberbatch (Peter Guillam) and begins piecing things together through a series of interesting and eye-opening flashbacks.
The story is just really well made, it's really smart, there is a lot of talking going on, and not much action, but it forces you to pay attention to every small detail of the movie. Once the movie is over, you feel like watching it all over again because you feel like you had missed some important details. I really loved this film and was completely satisfied with the movie. The performances are just great, Gary Oldman steals the show. He is so quiet and emotionless; what a really good spy probably looks like. You never know what is going through his mind, but you cant help but think he knows what he's doing. Then there is Tom Hardy who is always great. He is probably the person who shows more emotion in this movie, but he is brilliant. Peter Guillam, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, and John Hurt are all terrific as well. The movie really has a seventies feel to it and I don't think you can get closer to that time better than how Alfredson did. The casting, the setting, the filming, the editing, the soundtrack, everything about this film is just perfect. This film, along with Drive, were the best experiences I had with a movie this year. It isn't a sexy or entertaining film, it will require your complete attention, but the payoff is completely worth it. The screenplay was also really well adapted from the John Le Carre lengthy novel. They were able to condense the story into two hours which is much shorter than the seven hour BBC television version starring Alec Guinness. I really loved this film and absolutely recommend it over any other spy thriller.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As the title suggests, I feel it can only be a case of the Emperor's
New Clothes when reviewers commend this as a classic and brilliant
film. In a discussion with a friend of mine I was also treated to the
same rhetoric when I disagreed - that I must be some kind of
unintelligent heathen who only likes simple action films. Not so,
unfortunately. Rather, I just spent the last two hours being bored to
within an inch of my life. Only because I thought there must be
something coming that justified said glowing reviews did I not leave
the theatre, but it turned out to be as bad a decision as going in
there in the first place.
The film setting is pretty much the most dismal and dreary image of 1970's England imaginable. Everything is brown or grey, dirty and uninspiring, as if looking through the eyes of a severely depressed individual. We are treated to endless scenes of characters simply moving from one dreary location to another, and then sitting there not speaking. Smiley, whilst brilliantly acted by Oldman, seems incapable of responding to any dialog without first a 30 second pause of suspended animation. The majority of the rest of the characters comprised a bunch of sour, rude and miserable old men, none of which I developed even the slightest compassion for.
The basic story of the film is the discovery of a mole in MI6, except that since MI6 appeared to consist of the most miserable human beings on the planet then really, who cares if they find the mole or not? In fact, why not leave the mole there since he's the only thing that's even vaguely interesting. The mole is, of course, finally uncovered in a scene that typifies the film: another brown room, two miserable old men not speaking and not moving.
Cinematography also seems to be another buzzword to use here, so let's address it. To be fair, some nice use of the camera does add a modicum of style, but it's nothing that hasn't been done before, and if anything it's overused to the point where it gets in the way of the film and becomes tiresome.
It's not that there aren't some good points, there are. There are a few well done scenes, the acting is good, and the younger characters do infuse some life into the plot. However, unfortunately these islands of relief are few and far between, and the result was two and a bit of the most dreary and uninspiring hours of my life.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
*** (out of 4)
Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, a retired British agent who is placed back into the field to try and uncover the identity a mole within the ranks of the M16's who is giving information to Russia. TINKER TAYLOR SOLDIER SPY, adapted from John le Carre's novel, is certainly a very well-made movie and it features some terrific performances but I must admit that I got lost several times. It seems most people are commenting that they can't figure out the story and it seems many people are hating the movie for this and I can't blame them. However, even though I couldn't figure out all of the plot points, this type of confusion reminded me of THE BIG SLEEP with Humphrey Bogart, another movie where you couldn't follow the story but that didn't take away from the entertainment. Director Tomas Alfredson (LET THE RIGHT ONE IN) does a marvelous job at keeping the film moving at a good pace even though it's deliberately a very slow one. It seems like the director wants to get every bit of detail within the frame so there are very slow, drawn out sequences where not much happens but you can look around and just about everything will grab your attention because you never know if it's a clue or not. I really loved the cold atmosphere that he brought to the film and it's almost identical to his vampire movie. The other very strong point is that you got some terrific actors doing strong work. Oldman is so great here that I'm surprised he's gotten as much attention as he has. This isn't James Bond and there's not a single bit of flash to his character but that's what makes the performance so great. I'm sure most actors would have wanted to add more flair to the part and this is something that Oldman did in many of his early great performances. He doesn't do that here and instead he really gives such a low-key performance that you just sit there riveted because his eyes tell you everything you need to know. What also impressed me was the way he came off to be constantly thinking about everything he's taking in. Several actors have talked that it's important to listen and think while on camera and Oldman does that brilliantly here. It certainly doesn't hurt that you have impressive support by Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, David Hencik, John Hurt and Tom Hardy. Again, the story makes very little sense or at least to me, someone who hasn't read the novel but everything else is just so perfectly done that the film remains entertaining.
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