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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Many people here dislike the movie but are satisfied with the TV
version and/or the book. Well, judging from the film, the spy story
itself is ridiculous on so many levels. Le Carre, as a former spy
should have known better.
The opening scene in Budapest that sets everything in motion, sadly, doesn't pass the laughing test. A British undercover agent is to meet a potential defector - a Hungarian general who is willing to reveal to the British ultra-important information about a Soviet mole at the very top of MI6. Why would this general use a go-between and thus increase the chances of being discovered, exposing his go-between (probably a dear and trusted friend) to a mortal danger? It's absurd.
The Budapest operation had already been betrayed, however, and the Russians know. So they are supposed to be in full control - remember, the stakes couldn't have been higher. Instead, they let a sloppy Hungarian agent mimic nervously in front of everybody and let sweat drop in front of the British spy among other revealing signs and yet the British spook omits all those. Then the stupid Hungarian agent shoots the fleeing Brit, why, when they can just surround the place and apprehend him???? Only after all this nonsense takes place, some Russian spy chief pops out of nowhere and shouts that everybody is stupid.
A young woman breast-feeds there right in the middle of it, sitting in the open, in the cold, so that she gets shot in the head by mistake - the bullet aimed at the fleeing spy takes a left and ends up inside her brains contrary to real life ballistics. How cruel can the spy world be! Really? How dumber and more contrived can this go?
Then, the captured Brit is tortured, why, when the Russians have this much better informed mole, higher, at the very top of MI6. And then the Russian master spy, named Karla (because that's how Le Carre wants to present him - a master) lets the Brit back to the UK, so that he would tell how he was tortured, how they unnecessarily blew the brains out of a young nice woman in front of him absolutely for no reason, and most importantly, the captured British agent had talked to the mole before leaving for Budapest. So if he is let back to the UK, he would immediately point at the all important mole as the potential source of the information that betrayed the entire Budapest operation. This officially makes Karla, the worst agent-runner in history, despite Le Carre's half-baked attempts to make him a master spy.
But it is not only the Russian "master" spies who are stupid. So are the British: when the mole (played by Firth) is finally caught and in custody, the British let him outside the safe house, in the open (???), nobody guarding him (???) so that everybody who wants revenge or just to shut his mouth can easily sneak in and put a bullet in his head, no sweat. Really? This is how the British will keep their uber-important detainee? The man who is supposed to give them some idea how much damage has been done, how many operations have been compromised???
And this goes on and on ..., nothing makes sense in the "spy" story.
The director is employing a series of cheap shots to impress the easily impressionable - the young breastfeeding woman, the completely unnecessary violence all along. The story is boring, as many already pointed out, incoherent from A to Z.
On a personal level, Smiley, as smart and deeply intellectual as he pretentiously is supposed to be, finds out his wife is cheating on him only by chance, simply because she is so careless that she makes out with the mole at some ridiculously set party at the MI6 headquarters. I thought he was supposed to be able to read people, if he is so good. It turns out his wife was betraying him every step of the way.
Most of the characters are 2-dimensional at best, John Hurt's Control is a caricature of a human being, who would allow a person with such unhinged behavior to be the head of British intelligence? We've heard about British eccentricity and propensity for alcohol, but how do you go up in such a hierarchy with behavior that outrageous?
The gay element also seems contrived. For obvious political correctness. Since we all heard how some of those Soviet moles in MI6 were homosexual, here comes Le Carre (or the director) to remind us that gays can also be the good gays who catch moles. And sacrifice their personal lives, for the cause. This is sophisticated world, people, make no mistake.
We don't learn anything about most of the characters and their motivation with very few exceptions, such as the British rogue agent in Istanbul, who wants to save a Russian damsel in distress just out of some basic human decency. This, give or take, is the only plausible event in the whole story.
Oldman's acting is reasonable but nothing extraordinary, although I found some elements of his performance rather pretentious than anything else. But it could only be me.
The director employs clichés that I'm sure the cinema-snobbery would fawn over. For example, the main character, Oldman/Smiley is shown several times swimming in some pond with deep, deep, dark, dirty waters. So if you are so dumb and not getting it how Smiley is swimming in the dangerous and muddy waters of international espionage, here comes the director of this movie with his mind-blowing 'symbolism', generously helping you out.
The film was tremendous disappointment for me, especially since I saw some of the ads on British TV, presenting it as something like the best spy thriller ever. What?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I really wanted to enjoy this film. I watch the 1979 TV series at least
once a year and was looking forward to a new, dark, edgy take on a
I was very disappointed. First, the plot is mashed up (for example Ricki Tarr, who should set Smiley's mole hunt in motion, does not appear until the half-way point). Secondly, characters are not developed and even altered (Percy Alleline is a peevish bully, rather than an over-promoted pompous buffoon who has been suckered into giving the KGB a pipeline into Western intelligence, and Peter Guillam is fashionably gay). We don't even get any sense of Bill Haydon's motivation to turn double agent apart from a throwaway line about the West being "rather horrible". Colin Firth does make more of Haydon's frustration at working for an increasingly impotent power - Britain - when he wants to make a mark on History and therefore turns to a more dynamic force which he believes the USSR to be.
There is no suspense in the key scenes where Peter Guillam steals a top secret file from the archives, or even in the revelation of the mole. What Hitchcock could have done with these sequences! One scene which did work for me on a symbolic level was the Christmas party. This is original to the film but does suggest how the British intelligence service (and, by implication, Britain itself) has become lazy and hedonistic, and is losing its grip.
Gary Oldman totally fails to capture George Smiley's self-deprecating intelligence. We get no indication of Smiley piecing together a jigsaw and realising what the 'Witchcraft' project really means. Film-makers often confuse British reserve with unemotional stolidity, and Oldman walks straight into that trap.
The cinematography looks good, with shadowy interiors suggesting the claustrophobia of the world of espionage, but the design for the Circus HQ is all wrong - it is not a huge open-plan office, but a series of small, seedy little rooms.
All in all this was a huge disappointment. I came straight home from the cinema and put the BBC series back into my DVD player.
Great cast of actors. Great visuals. But... the chronological editing of events is just too confusing. It goes back and forth through time and you've no idea of when a transition occurs, that is, if the next scene is a continuation of the last one or gone back in time or back to the present. I couldn't tell if there were 10 or 50 time changes. I could tell from the silence in the auditorium last night that no one else understood it either, perhaps this is why the critics have given it such high ratings. I think this gratuitous confusion added to the film really takes away from it. I won't bother trying to watch and understand it again.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ever since I first heard of this Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I knew I
wanted to see it. Primarily because of the cast, with Gary Oldman and
John Hurt two of the best underrated actors today, Colin Firth a vast
majority of the time delivering solid to marvellous work, Mark Strong
who impresses me more and more every time I see him and Tom Hardy and
Benedict Cumberbatch two of the most promising young stars working now.
Another point of interest is its source material and the 1979 version. At first, I did find the book somewhat a slow-burner and not to easy to get into. On repeat readings however, I do find it a compelling and very interesting piece of work. I had heard much about the 1979 version, and when I saw it I was more than impressed. It was tense, involving, I connected to the characters and Alec Guinness' performance in it for me was one of his most memorable and iconic of his very great career.
About this Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy it did have a lot to live up to, considering how great the book and the Alec Guinness version were. And I think it succeeds, it admirably condenses a very difficult book which I imagine is a daunting task, and does extremely well on its own merits too(which is how I will judge the film). At first, like the book it is a slow-burner to start with, but once the tension rises, the story gets going and more characters introduced the film becomes more absorbing. The ending I agree was a little rushed, but I personally didn't find it too convoluted.
I did find that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was very well made. The period recreation was wonderfully evoked, and even better than that it was authentic. The cinematography was also impressive, perhaps grainy, but it did suit the gritty, menacing tone of the film and atmosphere very well. The music is electrifying, it does play a subtle part in some scenes but also adds to any scene that is tense or shocking. The direction consistently is assured and don't fall into the trap of being too artsy.
The script is thoughtful and has the basic feel of the prose of the book. The story as I have said is slow to start with, and it is a good idea for those who haven't read the book or seen the 1979 version to have a good enough idea of it before watching, but the number of shocking scenes such as the killing of Hardy's love interest and Firth's character's demise and the atmosphere throughout kept me interested and thrilled. Also the part where Ciaron Hinds' character hums the George Formby song, it was terrifying in a way that they'd been listening in but Cumberbatch's face was a picture! The pace is solid, alive to nuances and doesn't plod so much as for me to call it dull or something like that.
Characterisation wise, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy isn't as good as the 1979 version or the book even, but in many ways I can understand. The 1979 version did have more time and room to delve more into the characters. That said, I do commend the film in doing what it could to make the characters interesting and perhaps complex and I think any "slow" pacing helped with this rather than hindered it. I also loved that the emotion in this film is very under the surface rather than hard hitting. The acting is excellent.
Gary Oldman is superb, George Smiley is perhaps one of his more subtler performances, but nonetheless it is still commanding and one of my personal favourite performances of his. Of the support cast, the standouts are Tom Hardy, whose character apart from Smiley was the film's most interesting, and Mark Strong whose charisma and intensity still captivates. Benedict Cumberbatch I initially wasn't sure about in regard to age, but the acting was so great I forgot about any worries. Colin Firth gives his usual solid performance, Toby Jones also excels and Kathy Burke does well in a hard role. John Hurt gives his all into what he's got, which goes to show how good an actor he is, he's got some good lines and excellent delivery but the character isn't as developed well or as natural as the rest.
Overall, a very interesting and well done movie. It was one of my most anticipated movies of the year, and it ended up being one of my favourites too, which is saying a lot seeing how hit-and-miss so far 2011 has been for movies. 9/10 Bethany Cox
The acting was first-rate. The adaptation was horrible. There are so
many holes in the plot I felt as though I missed the first 15 minutes
of the movie......you know, the part where we're supposed to see the
birth of the story line and some character development. Anyone who
wasn't already familiar with the book would be completely lost. It's
like I was watching part 2 of a two-part miniseries without having seen
part 1. It was beyond disjointed. Did Cirian Hinds even have any lines
in the movie?? He was in scene after scene but I don't remember him
In any case, I was hugely disappointed in this film. The BBC miniseries with Alec Guiness is vastly superior.
Clearly wasted on the attention-deficit cohort, this slow-burner rewards the effort and concentration you give it tenfold. It is only when you see the characterisation that cinema is capable of, in films like this, that you realise how crudely drawn and unsatisfying most performances are at the moment. Others have commented on the plot, but that is not the most interesting part of Tinker Tailor. It is the pulse that is palpable in the small static moments, where every image and gesture seems to thrum with an expectation of something wrong; a jarring discord that never lets the audience settle. You are brought into the personae of the characters in a way that makes you feel culpable; never letting you off the hook morally. This film is so good - packed with a thousand tiny pleasures - that it is sad that not everyone loves it. I wish it had had the confident US release that it deserved.
I love the '79 TV serial and the book it was based on. I went to this
expecting, given the cast and LeCarre's involvement, that it would be
an interesting attempt to compress and update the original and that the
noble effort would fall short. Unfortunately, this film is a disaster
at every level. Not a single element rises to the level of the
original, most are far worse, and the failures are stupid and
In the course of trimming the material to film-length, someone decided to leave out character development. Lacon, Bland, Esterhazy and Haydon are semi-dimensional ciphers and Alleline and Control are peevish wasps. What a waste! Oldman, playing Smiley, tries for reserve and manages to look petrified; the botox budget must have been enormous. I have never appreciated the expressive and nuanced performances of Alec Guiness and the rest of the original cast so much.
By all means, watch the DVD of the original and its sequel. And if this bunch ever remakes Smiley's People, stay away.
In the twisty, desolate world of espionage present in Tinker Tailor
Soldier Spy, director Tomas Alfredson and a lush ensemble cast dive us
into a world deceit and distrust during the Cold War era. The premise
is simple; in the top ring of MI6 (known as The Circus) there is a
Soviet mole. What follows this, however, is anything but simple.
Characters weave in and out, giving us answers but leaving with
potentially more questions. Often times there are films dealing with
deceit that present characters who have a small grasp of what's going
on but not much of an idea of the overall picture; rarely has there
been a film that leaves the audience feeling the same.
It's this interesting tactic that I think sets Tinker apart in many ways. For every move that you understand there are one or two that are left mysterious; a motivation you're unsure of, a conversation that may not be everything it seems. I think Alfredson does a terrific job of, almost from the very moment the film begins, establishing a world so filled with double meanings that even the most casual conversation can lead the viewer to question if we're seeing what is really going on. There's so much below the surface that watching the film becomes as much of a puzzle as the one the characters are trying to figure out within it.
A lot of credit here goes to writers Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, who are surprisingly skilled at condensing a very dense novel into a two hour film. Every now and then you can feel the effect of maybe some characters not being as fleshed out as they should, but for every scene that we might not see on camera, the actors make up for with an insightful look into their souls. Eye-acting is something that I've always admired greatly and just about every member of this deep ensemble is working that skill to the level.
At the top of the hill is Gary Oldman as George Smiley, the recently retired agent who is tasked with the duty of cracking this labyrinthine code, and he absolutely shines. Oldman is a performer who has many times been praised high for his theatrical performances in films like Leon and Sid and Nancy where he bursts at the seams with emotion, but here he proves that he can do the opposite by keeping that wealth of feeling hidden beneath those big frames.
Through all of the twists and turns of the narrative that goes on here, I think that the film ultimately shines brightest as a character piece, strangely enough. In spite of having to condense the story at the risk of some character development, it still ends up being this heartbreaking study of the men who go into this line of work. Along with Oldman there is a wealthy ensemble of performances that hauntingly portray the pain and suffering that decades of lies and paranoia can eventually take on someone.
There's a scene where Smiley tells Benedict Cumberbatch's character about a time when he tried to turn a Soviet agent and in that scene Oldman displays the toll that this life has taken on him and it is devastating. He does it without shedding a tear or even pushing too hard on any syllable, but in those eyes and that voice you can feel the things that haunt him at night and it's powerful stuff. Of course the entire ensemble brings their A game here, with very notable performances from just about everyone.
Almost everyone gets their moment in the sun, except for Ciaran Hinds, and they all manage to impress. I just want to single out Colin Firth, who absolutely broke my heart in his final scenes, and Mark Strong, who after the past few years of playing the stoic bad guy finally got to dig into a part with more emotional layers to it and he really nailed it. These veteran actors all give us that sense of what this life can do to a man, and the roles played by Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy are just as important looks into the beginning of a path that will eventually lead them to the same location.
In that same scene with Oldman and Cumberbatch, he tells his young protégé that in this world you are constantly looking for the weakness in everyone else and the acting here shows us just that; everyone is putting up such a front, trying to remain cold and complacent, as to not allow anyone else to see any weakness for even a single second.
The puzzle leads to a rather conventional place in the narrative sense, but what it does on a deeper level I found to be extraordinary. We enter a world where the people in it don't even know what their motivation is half of the time. It's a new kind of espionage out there and some of these pieces just feel like they're playing a part. Some of the dialogue is so bold and eye-opening for this kind of film, a rare look into the actual hearts and souls (or lack thereof) of these people, rather than just an excuse for some slick action.
Of course the technical qualities of the film are aces across the board, from the very bleak and cold tone in which it's shot to the wonderfully impressive set designs, but for me it really came down to this painstaking study of these people. I find it interesting when people say that they were bored by the film, because with this tone and these wounded creatures I honestly wish I could have watched this play out all day long.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Though skilfully adapted and made with a pleasing combination of solidity and flair, this film slightly disappoints. Its tone, grandly, cinematically sombre, strays occasionally into bathos or, at the end, barely suppressed triumphalism. At times you feel that television, an intrinsically more humdrum medium, is better suited to the moral seediness of this genre. And of course it's with its BBC television predecessor that this film invites comparison. Some things come out about even. John Hurt is a charismatic Control, even if the shortened format doesn't allow us to witness the gradual and complete disintegration of the character that Alexander Knox portrays in the BBC series. But Colin Firth brings nothing to the role of Haydon to match Ian Richardson's self-tormenting irony; it would have been interesting to see what Ciarán Hinds, already in the cast but underemployed as Roy Bland, might have done with the role. As the central character, Gary Oldman is an enigma, a man who reveals nothing of himself to others. Alec Guinness gives us something more complex, a character who reveals to others exactly what he wants them to see. In showing the light in his character, he also reveals the shadows. Oldman's Smiley is, by contrast, a hero for our modern age: we don't much care who or what he is as long as he is on our side and we win.
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