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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?
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.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a movie adapted from one of the best Cold
War era crime novels, with the same title with a slight difference:
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy". When you put commas as they appear on
the 1974 novel cover, you get to understand that a tinker is a spy, a
tailor is a spy, and a soldier also is a spy. And when you think of it,
you get to ask yourself this question:
"Why would a tinker turns a spy, and a tailor, and a soldier too?"
Take a guess to answer the question above. 'Cause if you don't, the movie, which is terribly directed, won't tell you what the spies are trying to find out. Here is the truth after the unknown. The truth lies underneath a tongue twister game Children of the Cold War in Britain used to play. The tongue twister is this, as it appears on the prologue of John le Carré 's novel:
"Tinker... Tailor... Soldier... Sailor... Rich... Poor... Beggar... Robber, take the sea-shells and take the jacket buttons, trade in daisy leaves and trade in sunflower seeds, now you did, we are friends, we are friends, we are friends"
While reading the novel, which is consisted of 42 episodes, 7 episodes for each occupation from the children's tongue twister and there are 6 pieces in the game of Chess. 7 times 6 equals to 42. When you pair them with each other, you get to solve the mystery:
Chess pieces from highest rank to the lowest rank: "King... Queen... Rook... Bishop... Knight... Pawn"
Let's pair them: "Tinker is King... Tailor is Queen... Soldier is Rook... Sailor is Bishop... Rich is Knight... Poor is Pawn"
When Bishop(Gary Oldman as Smiley) explores the Rook(John Hurt as Control)'s chess board with the names and photos of his subordinates(Knight and Pawn), even Smiley didn't know that he was the Bishop. And when the Knight(Mark Strong as Prideaux) is assassinated, what should the Rook do next? That's what the movie is about.
Since the promise is a heavy secret, which both the screenwriters and the director hides away from the audience, to fit the story into this sort of plot-structure ; then you don't have much to tell.
John le Carré 's novel is one of the best boring novels I've ever read in my life, even though it has a unique mystery. Yes, it's a mystery, but in fact there is nothing happening at the present time. It's just all thoughts and ideas about the events in the past, in order to find the mole that destroys the organization's plans. Should every crime story necessarily be involved with a mole?
So, don't expect nothing original to find, when you're watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, except some unique production aspects as follows:
1- Unpredictable hero 2- No bad guy to challenge against 3- An unrevealed secret turns good guys into bad guys 4- Suspicion, kills! 5- Spectacular views from some European cities, the shots from the city of Istanbul are the most accurate ones(except the Hotel shot) after other hit movies such as Eastern Promises, James Bond: From Russia With Love and a Jackie Chan comedy/crime flick
If you really want a good crime/thriller/mystery watch Robert De Niro and Matt Damon 's The Good Shepherd(2006), since in this specific genre and sub-genre mix no better movies filmed yet.
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.
I have seen the TV series of this novel made in 1979 three times and the performance by Alec Guinness as George Smiley was one of the great milestones in the history of television drama. Compared to him, in this sad and failed new film version, the performance as Smiley by Gary Oldman is utterly pathetic. Oldman is so wooden he should really be growing in Kew Gardens. On the rare occasions when he moves or tries to show some expression, it is like watching the twitching of a corpse in its coffin, having been given a slight shock by a portable battery. The only decent performances in the film are by John Hurt and Colin Firth, who simply do not know how to be bad, no matter how hard the director attempts to make them so. Mark Strong as Prideaux does well. Everyone else is lost in a wilderness of incompetent direction. The screenplay is so bad that it could enter the list of Worst Film Scripts of All Time. The film is rambling, incoherent, incomprehensible, mumbled, vague, affected, pompous, stupid, and an offence to the viewer's intelligence. It is as if Donald Duck had been asked to film Shakespeare, so comical is it as a pastiche of a spy film. Was it the intention of Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner to make a comedy on the sly? Is that their game? If so, why was Dawn French not cast as Smiley so we could have some real laughs? Now, that would have been worth it. This film is what my late friend John Trevilian would have called 'wrist-slashingly depressing' (which was one of his salubrious phrases). Of course, what does ooze from this misbegotten film, as it does from any John le Carré story, is the omni-presence of treachery in Britain. Britain over the past century has produced traitors in the way that a stagnant pond breeds mosquitoes. There must have been at least 150 major Soviet agents working for the British Government between 1930 and 1990, most of them in the Foreign Office, though always some in the Home Office. In the TV series, the 'finger code' was prominent, for identifying the mole. This was probably based upon the 'toe code' which appears really to have been used by MI6. When Kim Philby reached the Soviet Union he sent a cryptic message back to England by an individual whom he trusted saying that 'the middle toes of both my feet were black'. I always took this to mean that he was not a genuine defector but a 'plant' sent to find out who the mole was, but from his message it appears that there were two. The film omits the finger code altogether. The only famous traitor I ever met was Sir Anthony Blunt. I spent an uncomfortable hour discussing an art matter with him in his grand office at Portman Square when he was Director of the Courtauld Institute. At that time no one would have dreamt that such a man could be a spy. The instant I set eyes upon him I sensed that I was in the presence of a dangerous killer-reptile. I have never hated anyone so violently at first sight, and he seemed to feel the same way about me. It was as if we had known each other in a former life and hated each other before. He was one of the most arrogant, supercilious, snobbish individuals I ever encountered, and utterly loathsome. He covered himself in a vestment of unctuous politeness which oozed vanity and contempt. The atmosphere in the room congealed into a solid state of mutual hatred. We somehow made it through our meeting, despite the fact that to judge from our eyes, what we really wanted to do was lunge at each other's throats and attempt to kill one another. Fortunately, I have never had this happen with anyone else, as it was most disturbing. The hatred was so intense and so instantaneous between us that I am at a loss to give any normal or rational explanation. Many years later, when he was unmasked, I was at last able to say to myself that he was genuinely a villain, and I had not been imagining it. Security chiefs can also be odd. Long before anyone had ever heard of her, or could conceivably have imagined that she was a spook, I sat beside Stella Rimington at dinner, and she did her best to appear an ordinary person. She was tense, brittle, sharp as a whip, totally on the ball, and intermittently prickly. Strange how little innocent Stella at a harmless dinner party steered the subject of conversation onto what I thought of Soviet penetration of the Foreign Office. Such an innocent, in a simple frock! I once saw Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller interviewed on the television news. I thought she came across as an idiot. Let's hope it was just bad 'presentational skills' and not congenital idiocy. Perhaps this all goes to show that security bosses slightly resemble human beings, in that they too can range from the brilliant to the terminally foolish (with all the disastrous consequences that the latter implies). Surely the worst security boss the West has ever known was Allen Dulles, and that was not because he was a fool, but for the opposite reason, that he was too clever, and thought controlling the CIA was not good enough for him, so why not the world instead. The depiction of security bosses in this pathetic film may indeed be its one merit, for if this serves to inform the public that some of the weirdest people in the world are in charge of all our destinies, and that many of them appear to have been dragged foaming at the mouth from an insane asylum in order to preside over assassinations, 'the war of terror', renditions, torture, and the humiliation of airline passengers, then congratulations!
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Though skilfully adapted and made with a pleasing combination of solidity and flair, this film ultimately 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.
This is quite possibly the dullest film I have ever seen. I was hoping for something a little more engaging on a Sunday afternoon but struggled to stay awake through it. It is a fairly simple story line and you know where it is going but instead of a tale with twists and turns it takes a basic linear path. In order to feign complexity all the Director did was cut up the time line. It didn't help that they focused on a particular character in a certain way which was out of context with how other characters were dealt with. Why did they do that? Oh because he is the bad guy. I was hoping that was a red herring. Unfortunately not, the guy I thought it would be 30 minutes into the film was indeed the bad guy. Clumsy, pseudo intelligent, uncreative, dullness.
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.
I have a VERY high ability to pay attention to very long films (having seen all of the Russian version of "War and Peace" at 414 minutes---TWICE, as well as "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance" at 883 and 1620 minutes each), although I could not stick with "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". I even tried watching this film on two different occasions--and just found my mind wandering. It isn't that the acting is bad (the film is made up of wonderful actors such as John Hurt and Colin Firth). And, perhaps it isn't because the story sucks--as a bazillion copies of the book have been sold and it also was a very successful British TV series. No, to me the trouble is the mood. The director chose to film the movie in the most somber manner possible. As a result, despite being a spy film, there is almost no energy. And everything is GRAY--very, very gray. Despite 1973 being a year known for its outrageous colors, everyone in the film wears gray and brown suits---and even the brown looked rather gray! This, combined with oppressively dismal music just made this a very unpleasant viewing experience for me. So unpleasant, I just didn't care at all for the characters and was kind of hoping international Communism would win JUST to shake it up and provide some interest!! I know the film was Oscar-nominated and folks love it based on the reviews I read, but apart from "Tree of Life", I can't think of a duller film that's received a nomination in recent years. I really wanted to like this.
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