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*** 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!
John Le Carre is without doubt one of the literary greats of the late
20th Century . A master of complex story telling his novels are often
composed of characters standing around discussing complicated
geo-political situations and the human condition . This means that his
novels are fundamentally uncinematic , a fact reflected that so little
of his work has been adapted to the silver screen . With this
adaptation of his 1974 novel I doubt if anyone was expecting a James
Bond thriller and I know I wasn't but even so you're struck as to how a
Le Carre thriller doesn't lend itself to mainstream cinema
You can't fault the film for its production values . It contains a who's who of prestigious big hitting British character actors such as Oldman , Hurt and Firth alongside up and coming peers such as Hardy and Cumberbatch . We also get a host of under rated actors in Strong and Burke and at a casting level none of this can be faulted . The look of the film is fantastic with the brownish dull hues reflecting both Communist Eastern Europe and run down Britain in the early 1970s and a day after seeing the movie my abiding memory of the film is the cinematography
The problem is that - and I'm afraid to admit this - is that I didn't have a clue what was going on most of the time . A British agent is shot and caputured in Hungary and MI6 believes he was set up by a mole . I understood this but then we cut to a character after character discussing who the mole might be , do we have a mole and we don't have a mole and very soon I was very lost . This film topped the film charts in Britain for a grand total of three weeks and one suspects by way of a backhanded compliment many people went to the cinema for a second and third time in order to unravel the plot . This is all well and good but illustrates the fact highly regarded novels often don't lend themselves to great cinema . Let's not forget two of the most memorable movies of the 1970s THE GODFATHER and JAWS were based on novels dismissed as trash
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.
This was the first movie I've seen this year and I still don't know why
I picked this particular movie. It was simply boring from the start to
finish. The plot didn't make no sense to me what-so-ever. I actually
dozed off to sleep during the movie, hoping when I awake the movie
would end. And I ever doze off watching a movie. Never! All of these
top rated actors in this movie and still it had no plot. Moreover, I
see a lot of people gave this movie great ratings, and a 7.7 overall.
Come on, 7.7? Well, I guess they found it more intriguing, cause I
If you like these type of movies that takes forever to figure out the puzzle, and with a good cast. Knock yourself out! But make sure you bring a pillow and a blanket.
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).
I like a variety of film genres, including spy films, but this one just
stole over two hours of my time that I can never get back. The
transitions between the "present" and flashbacks" were not in any way
delineated, so the viewer is left off-balance throughout. This is an
acceptable tool to use in the beginning of a movie, but there has to be
a point at which you allow the viewer to gain some equilibrium. That
just never happens in this film.
The characters are never developed properly, so the viewer doesn't really care about any of them. There is so much sitting around and excessive smoking, that one remembers little else.
Skip this one and spend your time and money on almost any other spy movie out there.
I don't know what people saw in this movie? I had to turn it off after an hour and half of watching random scenes of people walking around pointlessly. I like Gary Oldman, but he was expressionless 99% of time he was on Camera, do they give Oscars for most time on Camera without an expression? I thought the acting was pitiful. The only good acting was the joy of eating buttered toast, PLEASE! The Scenes are all over the place to start the Movie, you can't tell what's going on or why the scene is even there. My only thought was that they wanted to show off how good they could make it look like London 40 years ago, BFD! Scenes need to have purpose and they're were more pointless scenes then I could stand. I really tried to tough it out to see if this would go somewhere, but I ended it after watching Gary sitting there again expressionless for an extended amount of time. I just didn't care who the Mole was, that's NOT how a good movie should make you feel...
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.
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