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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.
It says a lot about the film that there's a post at the front page
right now calling it the emperor's new clothes, doesn't it? Oh, the
film may turn out to be complete bunk when you watch it, but you just
know it's going to be interesting. Right?
It is. It's one of the most engrossing stories I've been told. It ticks for me all the same boxes The Lives of Others did; Cold War, cold souls, coded eyes looking everywhere. The very best that cinematic deceit can offer.
I cannot tell you what it does or doesn't to the book and TV series, only that I was so stoked that I have the latter here with me to watch. But that is another post.
This, this you have to work to enjoy. It's directly structured to receive you but you have to be the spy, actively so. To better explain how this works, imagine Nolan had done this. There would be an architectural puzzle you'd be called to solve, boxes to arrange, but constant verbiage that would point for you the order of the pieces. It would seem like cerebral work, where in fact it would be like doing a crossword. Why this works by contrast, is the complete abstraction that permeates the story. Here, in dingy murky England, as well as abroad, then as well as now; there are no clear demarcations, and no one to guide us. Our detective is as much a cipher as anyone else, also part of the chess pawns we're called to move.
The broader idea is that the powers in control of this world that many of us experienced from one corner and believed elsewhere to be better, brighter, are equally ruthless, equally cunning, that the game unfolding between them has been so diffused it has drained the world of any color that would make a difference. England looks every bit as we were told was on the other side of the Curtain, pallid shambles.
So in order to get to the bottom of things, you have to abstract from your end. It's not enough to see spies outwit each other, you will have to see like one. You will need to be able to see every detail without being bogged down by any. You will need to leave this as you found it, having touched every corner. Move swiftly back and forth between the pieces, and move passionless, detached, knowing it's going to be always a little bigger and more intricate than you can immediately fathom.
Gary Oldman is simply superb in this, a role he cultivated as Gordon in the Batman films. It's a joy to be able to watch a great actor erase his presence.
For Smiley the point is to solve the case. Ours is getting to see how he tinkers and tailors the narrative. The resolution is an anti-climax, and we get to know all there is to know here. It was an aesthetic choice we learn, as much as a moral one.
Again neither of this is what is at stake in our film. Aesthetically, it is a simply drab, controlled affair. It was perhaps a wise choice that a Swede was brought in to direct, from a country that never having had any stakes in the game. But it's the only false note here, because he merely colors the thing. Morally, the whole thing is meant to be moot. Who knows what ruthlessness Smiley and Control perpetrated from their end.
No, the point is that you get to watch a world unfold beyond control. You can only spy. The whole shifting world is a distant reflection on your glasses. I get shivers just thinking what Antonioni could have done with this, it should have been his project after The Passenger.
I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of this 2011 version of Tinker,
Tailor, Soldier Spy with Gary Oldman, but when it finally arrived I was
so disappointed that I considered leaving the theater shortly after the
movie began. I didn't, but I should have.
To be fair to this current film, I admit that I have seen the British TV series version with Alec Guinness many times, so perhaps I'm merely biased. Frankly, though, - and despite the wonderful reviews of this film from many people - I don't see how anyone can take this dull, lifeless version seriously.
The acting in this film runs the entire gamut from A to B. Gary Oldman is no Alec Guinness. For all the taciturnity of his George Smiley, Guinness imbued his Smiley with genuine character, whereas Oldman is reduced to maintaining a stone-faced, unemotional countenance for the entire 2 hours 40 minutes duration of this film. Much has been made of Oldman's not saying a word in the first 18 minutes of the film, but this can be easily matched by some characters who had barely a sentence of two in the whole production. The usually formidable actor Ciaran Hinds must not have had more than 10 words total, and they were of absolutely no consequence. Academy Award winner Colin Firth had barely more to say, and I doubt if his role in the film contained even a whole page of dialog. Compare that to the brilliant 1979 performance in that role by the late Ian Richardson. The only character in this film who exuded any sense of real life was that of Jim Prideaux, played by Mark Strong. But Strong was not allowed to be anywhere near as "strong" as that of the character played in 1979 by the late Ian Bannen.
If I had not seen the earlier British television series I honestly doubt if I would have been able to follow the plot of this current movie. The film is dark, the characters rather dull, and flashbacks abound. I really believe the makers of this film expect viewers to already know the plot before arriving in the theater.
I have other quibbles. This film has the headquarters of MI-6 located in what looks to be a former warehouse. Inasmuch as MI-6 is an arm of the U. K. Foreign Office, are we expected to believe that the elite of the British intelligence establishment would be housed in those dark, dank conditions? And would spies work in an open office environment with no privacy? Hard to believe.
If you go to this film I hope you enjoy it. But I'd also recommend you get a DVD of the 1979 British TV series in which the acting, atmosphere, locations, and music are all far superior to this current version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy.
The first episode of the BBC series sets the tone perfectly, introducing the key players and telling us what kind of people they are, all by just having them enter a room for a meeting without saying a word. The trouble with the movie version is that we never get the chance to know the characters. They are faceless people with difficult names and we don't care which one of them is the bad guy. I have read the book at least three times, seen the TV series twice and was still totally confused by the movie. Anyone who hasn't read the book, I would suggest, doesn't stand a chance. The grimy landscape around the Hotel Islay was nicely done. But why make every scene grimy? Where was the circus? Where were the lights of Shaftsbury Avenue? Where were the green fields around Jim Prideaux's prep school? The key scene with Connie Sachs is destroyed by a totally out-of-place crudity and the climax, when the mole is revealed, is thrown away with zero drama. What was going on?
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.
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.
I really enjoyed this film. Gary Oldman's portrayal of George Smiley was brilliantly enigmatic. I liked the way the characters and locations were introduced verbally by another character and then visually in the film, so it was always clear where the action was taking place and who was in the scene. All the complex threads of the story were followed clearly. I remember trying to follow Tinker, Taylor, Soldier Spy when it was televised in days before video recordings were available and, if you missed an episode, you lost the plot! Not so with this film, which with a strong cast and intelligent filming makes for a completely engaging film. It will keep you guessing and get you trying to work out who the mole is to the very end. It was great to watch and the music was well chosen, complementary and not intrusive, never obscuring the dialogue. It makes a change for a film to challenge you to try to anticipate the twists and turns of the plot. This is definitely a watch-again film and I look forward to seeing more like it.
Saw this at a special screening. LOVED IT. I'm bummed that the limited
release doesn't open in any theater close to me, yet. I would've love
to see it again. Not that it was confusing to watch or anything. But I
found the layers and details so intriguing, it'd be purely
entertainment just to see it again and savor everything. There are so
many details that I still go through in my head even after weeks of
The pacing was perfect. For me personally, it was gripping. I couldn't take my eyes of the screen, which has a lot to do with all the great performances in the film. I don't think there was a weak or bad performance by anyone.
Gary Oldman is simply mesmerizing. I've been a long time fan. And to see him taking on a lead role like this is just....heaven. With the smallest infliction or twitch, he can convey so much information as well as emotion. In such a stoic character, I could still feel his character's incredible loneliness as well as his resolute for ideal. I can go on for pages about how terrific I think this performance is. If he doesn't get some award recognition for this, I'm going to be sick.
Kathy Burke's cameo was superb. Her scene with Oldman ranks one of the best in the film.
Like many others, I really enjoyed Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy in the film too. Both of them have these moments that really touched me. Yes, they are not huge emotional moments that are "designed" to elicit some sob reaction from the audience. But that's precisely why they are so well done. They don't seem forced or contrived. (I personally can't stand those fabricated "emotional" scenes with the big crescendo music behind it just begging you to please cry.)
I agree that the film can be distancing emotionally at times. I can see why some might dislike that trait. Thought it doesn't bother me at all. It fits the entire tone and theme (distance) of the film. And when it's time to get the glimpse into the characters' emotional state, I completely felt the pain and loneliness that the film wanted to portray.
It ranks as one of the best films of the year on my list.
Finally caught this wonderful film on DVD. Being a fan of le Carré's work I wasn't keen on watching it on the big screen. But I should have! Asides from the spectacular performances, the indelible score and the deftly nuanced direction, the adaptation itself handles most of the novel's complexities quite effectively. It's surprising, affecting and even touching. Yes, the Alec Guinness TV version is fondly remembered by most. However, I felt that this new version is more effective in how it challenges the viewer so that the reward at the end is exponentially more satisfying. Indeed, this is the type of film that begs to be screened more than once and I can't wait to see it again.
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