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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The running time of the movie is roughly half to that of the TV series.
It's running time demands many key subplots be cut short. Yet, the
wonderful editing and screenplay make this is a must-watch espionage
The screenplay of the movie, I felt, was written on the assumption that the movie-goers would have watched the TV series as well. Many key sentences that should have been spoken are simply shown as perceived and understood by the other characters, which might be a little difficult for those who have neither watched the TV series nor read the book.
Alberto Iglesias' soothing reboot of the soundtrack from the TV series is one of the facets that I liked in the movie.
Gary Oldman hasn't outperformed Alec Guinness' performance as the cagey George Smiley but I'm sure no other actor in the present day would have come close to Gary Oldman's portrayal of Smiley, a performance that fetched him a long-awaited Academy award nomination.
A movie that deserves the rave reviews that it received.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011) ***1/2 Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Ciaran Hinds, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Simon McBurney, Mark Strong. Oldman delivers a masterful, crafty performance as career British spy George Smiley whose old-school smarts are enlisted to thrush out a mole amongst his conniving den of thieves colleagues while investigating the death of his mentor and the unraveling of a botched assignment with lethal ripples of espionage gone awry. Based on the international best seller by John la Carre, the tightly wound, knotty crackerjack screenplay adaptation by Peter Straughan and his late wife Bridget O'Connor serves up some classic turns of the screws, cloak-and-dagger genre chestnuts while keeping the audience lively (a few scattered moments of very real violence inflicted) thanks largely to Tomas Alfredson's taut direction, expert cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema (the drab palette of muted greys/blues/browns expertly show a Europe in the dark in its Cold War era) and impeccable production design by Maria Djkorvic with crisp editing by Dino Junsater. But it is hats off to the very lived-in, implosive, internally observant Oscar-worthy turn by veteran Oldman (with a nice tribute to previous role interpreter the late, great Sir Alec Guinness by employing the old master's plummy vocalizations and the owlish specs), whose very stillness only betrays the villainy at hand. Top Notch!
TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY is a well shot film with great actors and
beautiful art direction. But a story one can follow it has not.
I don't consider myself the slow Joe in the last row, nor is my Girlfriend is that slow Jane but honestly each of us got maybe 25% of the story, half the film made sense when we discussed it later.
Maybe one must read the book first because the approx. 400 pages didn't seem to fit in the 127 minutes of film. There's lots of off-text but that's no real help if the basic motivations are told in hints, half sentences or metaphors. That's not how storytelling works in film.
It's a shame because I really loved Alfredson's LET THE RIGHT ONE IN which is a quiet film where a lot is said between the actual lines. For a cold war spy thriller tough that is not the right way to tell a story.
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.
The only people that will applaud this movie is: movie critics of the all too common variety that thinks that the more boring, meaningless and artyfarty a movie is, the better it is, and fans of the book and/or original screening. Anyone else that does, should seek professional help. Because this is a movie that goes on and on without anything interesting or exiting ever happening. To call this a thriller, is like calling watching a tortoise move having a front row seat to a fast-paced race to the death. Only in the last scene something exiting nearly happens, but the director elects not to show it to us. He must have thought that after over two hours of interminable boredom, the shock of something actually happening would be too much for some and might cause heart attacks. Sometimes the editors make halfhearted attempts to liven things up - by resorting to completely unannounced and utterly confusing jumps in time and space. Gary Oldmans excellent acting skills goes completely to waste, and could easily be replaced by Sylvester Stallone and his infamous lack of emotions. This movie is SO bad, that I initially believed it to be made by Norwegian State TV (NRK).
As someone who watched the original BBC adaptation in 1980 and admired
it as one of the best BBC series ever made, watching this film was a
disappointment. It suffers by comparison in almost every respect. At
key scenes I kept thinking back to the BBC version: Smiley's interviews
with Connie, beautifully played by Beryl Reid; the scenes with Jerry
Westerby played by Joss Ackland; the introduction to the main
characters as we see them enter the Circus meeting room for the first
time - particularly Percy's elaborate pipe filling. In this version we
have moved on three scenes in the time it takes Percy to tamp down his
And that is one of the major problems with this film, the plot exposition is so compressed. It has been well done, but it was the slow unfolding of the 'beautiful knot' that was half the pleasure. The other half was the incomparable acting led by Guinness. Gary Oldman is a seriously good actor, but Guinness was a great actor and could convey with a gaze or a look the deep intelligence and melancholy at the heart of the character in a way that Oldman can't.
Even the recreation of the 1970's, though convincing , has to be strived for, whereas in 1979 it was just there for the BBC, ready to be used. The overall result left me ultimately feeling uninvolved. The film ended, the lights came up and that was that. OK but not as good as the book or the TV series. Now that's damning with faint praise.
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.
Going into watching this film, I had recently watched the BBC
adaptation, which is a master piece of television. So when I review
this film, it is in comparison with the BBC version from 1979.
Firstly I have to talk about the Mise en scène. The film is set in 1973 and everything is made to feel drab, desaturated and used, as if the 60s never happened. The feeling is that Britain is old, not the power that it once was, where bureaucracy is beginning to take over and everyone is feeling negative.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has a very strong cast and I think, mostly everyone does very well. Gary Oldman is one of my favourite actor and his portrayal of George Smiley is one of the most subtle and destingished performances I have seen from an actor, He is soft spoken, often letting his gestures and movements do the talking. Tom Hardy again shows that he is one of the best up and coming actors, dominates his scenes, with skill and vigour, that never goes over the top. It actually show the skill that Gary Oldman has that he doesn't feel the need to compete and it reinforces the gravitas that his character has.
Benedict Cumberbatch is good in his role, though I don't always feel that he has a toughness that his character should have. Kathy Burke handles a very hard role well, though she isn't in the film for long and her scene doesn't feel as important, as I feel it should. The role of Control is probably the most over the top and for me works the least well. Mark Strong gives a good performance but I would have liked to see slightly more of his character.
John Hurt tries very hard as a man running out of time but the character feels forced and doesn't quite work. I am not sure if this is down to the acting of just the way the character was originally written.
With the four members of the top of the circus, I have mixed views. The film starts to try and build the four of them up but then fails to keep the early momentum going. I think the acting is well done, though Toby Jones character isn't nearly as pompous as I would have liked and David Dencik just breaks down to easily towards the end. Ciarán Hinds is a very strong actor but he isn't given enough to do which does leave a problem. Colin Firth plays the most likable character in the entire film and does a good job, coming over as friendly and reliable.
I am not a fan of films where the cinematography is particularly noticeable and this is one of the more distracting things for me with the new version of the film. Hoyte Van Hoytema is a very talented director of photography and is quite amazing, for me Oscar worthy if you enjoy it. But I just found that the constant use of and changing of depth of field, especially in the first half of the film was too artsy. It didn't help much with the pacing of the film, which I will go onto in a while. The score by Alberto Iglesias is very underplayed but perfectly fits the tone of the film, never distracting and extremely subtle. There is also a very interesting moment in the film where is played which although from the 1930s works very well.
Tomas Alfredson is a good director and I suspect a very good actors director, bringing out some very good performances. I cannot give complete praise though. Scenes don't always seem to flow as well as I would have liked, in conjunction with the cinematography there is a lot of lingering around, where nothing his happening, which is meant to show a character contemplating but is just slow.
In the end though the biggest problem with the film is time, Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan have done a sterling job of trying to adapt John le Carré book, but I just don't feel that they can succeed in the time allowed for a film. There are just so many little things that the film has to either cut or condense, and some of the characters are never given the space that they need, to build up the tension that is needed for a 'who done it'.
The film is not bad, in fact it is good. It cannot compete with the BBC series though and how ever good Gary Oldman, he runs up against the classic performance Alec Guinness gave in the role. If you have not seen the BBC series, I would suggest watching the film first and then watching the TV series because it is the definitive version of the story and also leads to Smiley's People which for me is even better.
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