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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.
I know my limits. I just couldn't follow the plot of this labyrinthine
movie adapted from John Le Carre's novel, which had previously been
made into an award-winning BBC TV series with Alec Guinness as
spy-catcher George Smiley. That itself had been a multi-part production
but here the action, or should that be inaction, is condensed into a
still lengthy two and a half-hour film.
It seemed that every time I picked up a plot thread, it led me down an inconclusive side- road with no real drama at any point. Even the revelation of the mole in the British Secret Service was delivered unspectacularly, in keeping with the dogmatic realism of the rest of the narrative. Plot-lines circle round and turn in on themselves but ended up only dizzying my perceptive powers.
The cream of contemporary British acting talent, old and young pretty much is the whole cast but I didn't get any sense of the actors really inhabiting their parts. Gary Oldman's playing is very much in the shadow of Guinness and no-one else distinguished themselves in my eyes. They may have been in the book I guess but strange scenes, like Smiley taking a constitutional swim in a public place or the Secret Service office party, just sort of occur, although to what end I'm not entirely sure. Apart from hearing the odd stray song on the soundtrack or sighting a vintage car in the streets, I hardly got the impression that this was the 70's at all. There were no news inserts or political issues to reference the times, leaving the story to unfold in a musty, grey netherworld, vaguely Kafka-ish in tone.
Which may well have been the point. All I know is this film failed to connect with me at all and was a major disappointment for this particular viewer in almost very respect.
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.
I found myself in front of an incredible movie without any warning and it felt good! Maybe there were the images, maybe there was the incredible performance of every actor in the movie, maybe it was the plot or maybe the combination of all of these. I am not sure what made me like it so much, the fact is that I do: I felt the power of "The Godfather", the excitement that "The Departed" gave me and something I haven't feel for a while: attention, imagination, intelligence and logic being stimulated by a film. I can compare this movie with Dante: this movie comes to me as a very strong light in a dark period of movie-making.
My notion of noir is simple: it is a form of narrative that recognizes
that there is a viewer, and that the presence of the viewer reshapes
the world to make an interesting story. That is, various unlikely
circumstances occur; portholes to visibility by us as ghosts are
opened; knowledge by the characters of what is going on are gated by
what we know in a too and fro of dominance.
It is, in other words, a world where the very presence of a viewer controls various aspects. A central character (usually one, usually a random man) struggles with how he is buffeted; comes perhaps to understand it and in the normal form achieves points in the game that puts him at the same level as the viewer.
We are a sophisticated people, and this has been around for a long time and in cinema and cinematically influenced art as well. So we have some clever adaptations and twists. One common form is the massive, all-controlling conspiracy. Another is the modern detective story where the discovery is about the detective's self as much as grokking the murder. Yet another is the con story where we follow the controller's actions but only at the end discover the means of manipulation.
Here we have another variant, which is essentially a detective story to discover who is the control over the world that is manipulating our random guy, aptly named Smiley. It shares elements of the three examples above, but allows for a deeper texture because it recalls worlds that have dynamics we understand. So a talented filmmaker can reference these.
And boy do we have a talented filmmaker!
One world is simply the world of men with power and how they perform small ballets in their relationships one to another to be top dog, using deniable, even unconscious tactics. This becomes the foremost world in this film, and gives our main actors something to use. All of them are first rate; all respond with insights from the craft. Kathy Bates is perfectly placed as a displaced analyst with enough vision to value 'her boys' for their sexual attractiveness at the top of the heap we see.
Another world is the cold war. It was hot when the book appeared, but the book already was treating it as a sort of fantasy world that came with prefabricated rules. In some ways, it has taken until now for this perspective to fully mature so that this film in this time can be far deeper than the original novel was in its time. Frankly, in its time it was trash for airport reading, of the Grisham variety.
Yet another world is that of Britain in the early seventies. This was a bleak country, still not recovered from the war while its adversaries were soaring. It clung to the US instead of the continent. There is a wistful desire to please the master here that hits home for this US viewer, knowing what I know about the relationships of the intel communities.
And we have the inner, personal world of loves, companions, friends, trust and sex. These are always where the bones of a story rest, and are broken.
All of these are noir worlds, all manipulated by various controls (Controls, as a proper noun).
All of these are masterfully called, merged and presented with us unsure of what we control.
Already, I have this as a candidate for one of my two rare selections of the most important films of 2012 (my 'Fours').
See it. See it in a theater.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
Yes, in the not too distant past Tomas Alfredson's film version of John
Le Carre's engaging mystery-spy thriller would have certainly attained
an "M" from the old ratings board, though not due to any overt displays
of sexuality or nudity; and while there is one hilarious bit of
profanity tossed out in the midst of the slow, icy grip of the plot
developments, the language used by most of the characters in the film
could hardly be described as "mature" in the pejorative sense.
No, the maturity of TINKER is indicated chiefly by the staid, stoic behavior of the indisputably adult figures who go about their business in their chosen profession and by the intricate, labyrinthine permutations of the unfolding tale. And the tale is set into motion by one objective: find the mole. Who is the spy (from the other side) who has been gathering information on the other spies (from our side?)? As depicted here the answer to the question does not come easy at all; finding the mole is painstaking, dangerous, even deadly work. This is James Bond for grown-ups; Mission: Impossible for (perhaps) the seriously middle- aged (though not exclusively). Pyrotechnic exhibitions and ingenious toys of destruction would serve little or no purpose in a film such as this. Indeed, as already pointed out by quite a few reviewers on this site, aficionados of the "high concept", low complexity, jump cut, action-driven school of filmmaking may find themselves searching for the exit door after the first thirty minutes or so of TINKER.
The audience is asked to attend and attend closely from the very outset and if there is bafflement in the viewers in determining who the mole is, there is equal bafflement among the characters in the film owing to the twists and turns and deceptions of the plot and the utter elusiveness of that slippery mole: the bafflement as well as the satisfying conclusion is well earned due to an excellent script, a tour de force of ensemble acting brilliance and superb direction.
Despite the very entertaining restraint of the characteristically volatile Gary Oldman (it was fun watching him rein in his energy and verve) the George Smiley on display here, though subdued in appearance and demeanor, cuts a more dashing figure than the bland cipher created in the novel and later portrayed with nondescript perfection by Alec Guinness in the 1979 television series. There were six hour long episodes in the television show and if memory serves the show was also a very engaging viewing experience; there was, naturally, far more time to delve into character and clarify (but not simplify) certain elements of the story.
Still, with a running time of just over two hours Alfredson achieves a wondrous compression of detailed information that, again, keeps you well engaged and yet gives the impression of a very sober, deliberate, unhurried immersion into a world apart, a world where trust is a rare commodity and where that close associate looking at you with cool yet friendly detachment from across the conference table may just be planning your imminent demise.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've both read the book and watched the TV miniseries starring Alec
Guinness. But the film has to stand on it's own. I don't think it did.
I became increasingly disappointed as the film progressed. The ending
was an absolute fizzle.
The director spends too much time on long empty pauses, getting from here to there, and sitting quietly in ugly rooms. The film seems to be more about getting good "shots" than telling a cohesive and gripping story. Even the more tense moments devolve into mere 'business.' Yawn. I imagine some people were lost. I know I was in spots. I also imagine some people just didn't care by the end.
Some of the director's more dubious choices pulled me right out of the film. Did we need to keep seeing the chess pieces? Got it the first time. The shot of Control dead in the hospital felt clumsy and disconnected. Why waste all that time with Smiley swimming in muddy water? We get it. Move on. The Christmas party flashbacks interrupted the story with no value added. And the time wasted in buying new glasses so we can tell future from past was clumsy and sophomoric. Cumberbatch played his big scene beautifully, but the device of making him gay was ludicrous. Honestly, a gay partner in this world would NOT be secret.
I'd trade all of that for a bit more character development. I had trouble placingor caring aboutthe players throughout. Smiley was especially flat and remotehis sharp intelligence and drive lost in empty silence. The meeting with Connie could have been a poignant reminder of the Circus that was, but here it's just a plot device. No Karla? That scene should have been a mine of material about these two titans, yet we get a flat narrative.
If the effort made in manipulating our visual field was spent on the story, this could have been so much more. Instead, it falls far short of engaging us in a very personalized tale of betrayal and the decades- long manipulation of an entire service.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
My wife and I saw this on DVD. We enjoyed it, the whole movie is
interesting and filled with established actors in most roles. But when
it was over we wondered if we were the only two who had a hard time
So I first went to old reliable (for me), the critic Ebert. He wrote almost exactly what we had been thinking, he couldn't follow it either, even though he has made a career of following sometimes complex movies and making sense of them.
So next I read a number of user reviews here, as well as many of the discussion items, and guess what? The most common theme is how difficult it is to follow all the characters and to understand what was going on. So I give this movie a favorable rating, I enjoyed it very much, but frankly it is very hard to follow. And when it was all over, I knew who the spy was, but I can't really say what all I saw in the movie.
Gary Oldman plays what turns out to be the central character, George Smiley . There had been an incident, Smiley was fired from the British secret agency, but now the old chairman of the group has approached him. They strongly suspect that there is a mole, a traitor in the organization and that it is one of the top five members. Smiley is asked to come back to investigate and figure it all out. Which he eventually does.
The movie's title comes from a code system used during the investigation and required communications. Each man being investigated was given a code name ... Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, etc ... and one of them would turn out to be the spy! Some action, but mostly quiet and often incomplete conversations which ended in vague, indirect references or implications. Enjoyable movie but very hard to follow. Maybe I already said that?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When Jim Prideaux is sent to Budapest to arrange the defection of a
senior Hungarian officer things do not go according to plan; he is shot
and we presume killed. One of the reasons Control, the head of MI-6 was
so keen to get his hands on the officer was that he had come to believe
that their was a mole high up in the service and this man could
identify him. With the operation failing Control is soon replaced along
with those closest to him. One of those let go is George Smiley; he is
recruited to find out who the mole is without those still in the
service knowing. As the case progresses we will learn more about what
happened to Prideaux after he was shot; the details of 'Operation
Witchcraft', which concerned an apparent Soviet agent who was passing
valuable information to the west and ultimately the identification of
Having seen the television adaptation of the story starring Alec Guinness I was curious to see how this would compare. Now I have seen both I'd probably rate the series higher but that might just be because I saw it first; inevitable a fair amount has been removed in this version but the key parts remain. The acting was top notch; Gary Oldman made a fine Smiley and the rest of the main cast was made up of fairly well known actors all of whom did well. People who don't know anything about the story before watching may be a little disappointed if they are expecting James Bond style action; there is none of that here; these spies aren't glamorous action men they are ordinary people; the sort you'd barely notice in a crowd; in other words far closer to what I imagine real people working at MI-6 are like. That isn't to say there is no action at all; there are a few shootings; one of which is particularly shocking. Over all this was a quality film which I'd certainly recommend.
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