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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Well of course it's literate - it's a John le Carré book. Where the
book moved at the rate one associates with planet formation in the
solar system, the movie manages to speed things up. That is, ever so
While the movie goes it's own way in rejecting much back-story, the editing mimics a degree of the time shifting style of the book. Yet transitions are poorly placed and you wonder if you merely fell asleep and missed a bit, which is possible, than witnessed brilliant editing. The story simply isn't all that engrossing. Smiley is brought in and assembles a team to look for a mole in the "circus."
Thats about it. Few surprises and the plot, while edgy in the 1970s, now has been done over a few times even by reality in the form of Aldrich Ames. The cloak and dagger bits are few and far between, though action is appropriately brutal and well timed. The second half is far better than the first.
Performance wise, the cast is peerless. To name a few, Firth, Hardy, Oldman and Mr Holmes himself, Benedict Cumberbatch give every ounce of credibility you need for serious jobs like this. Yet, there's still something missing. While this takes a vote above disappointments like Breach or The Good Shepherd, Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy feels like a dusty old overcoat. Sneakers from 1992 was more comic, less authentic, but more interesting and a better spy movie.
Good, not great. Saved by the acting and worth a rent.
It's probably an age thing. If you saw the original version then
there's no contest between Alec Guinness and Ian Richardson and Gary
Oldman and Colin Firth. The latter do their best, but it doesn't get
within a mile of the original. No menace and very little drama in
For those who've penned effusive praise of this version, give yourselves an early Christmas present and see the original.
I was particularly disappointed by the meeting in the safe house. It was confusing at best and unfathomable at worst.
Oscar standard - I think not.
What a blast. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, who did the acclaimed
horror film Let the Right One In, followed up that effort with yet
another adaptation of a novel, this time written by the famed John le
Carre, who himself was a real life British intelligence operative who
left the service to become a full time writer. His name may not ring a
bell at first, but he's responsible for countless of stories that
involve spy vs spy, and in the last decade had his stories The Tailor
of Panama and The Constant Gardener, amongst others, made into movies.
His main protagonist of George Smiley is to him like how probably Jack
Ryan is to Tom Clancy, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the first in
what would be known as the Karla Trilogy, and I'm hoping the rest could
be made as well, if this is indicative of how the rest can be.
I have to admit that the film moves at meditative pace, quite unlike most spy films which tend to focus on either the intrigue behind the politicking, or the action sequences. This is like an anti-thesis to the Bond films, where the figures that lurk in the shadows, stay in the shadows, rather than to blow their cover at each possible opportune. The narrative moves forward and backward very freely, and it's up to your own devices to piece things together in chronological order. But Alfredson does this without alienating or frustrating the viewer, and in fact putting scenes in their place so that they make sense, and provide you with a little bit of fun and work to figure out the complex web of relations and accounts that already exists, putting you in the driver's seat just as George Smiley (Gary Oldman) gets tasked to try and figure out the identity of a mole in the top levels of the British intelligence service.
Assembling a small crack team that he could trust, the crux of the story is like an investigative drama, where suspects and witnesses get paid an imposing visit by the unsmiling (contrary to his last namesake) Smiley whom you know brings about a certain gravitas in his presence, compelling one to cooperate rather than to go against. Gary Oldman, when his character George Smiley is on to you, there's no escape and even without firing a shot his deep stare and monotonous voice hardly betrays any emotion, and will make anyone pee in their pants out of unfounded fear. In many instances one will find it perplexing why he goes about in his investigations in a certain peculiar way, and only when it's revealed much later on that it all made sense, tying in with the way the scenes got presented together, sometimes without very clear answers, relying on your ability to put 1 and 1 together.
To say anything more will be to betray the necessity of the viewer to pay really close attention to every word said, and every scene being played out. There are plenty of thick dialogue in the film that calls for your utmost attention, with failure being to miss out on pertinent clues in this cat and mouse hunt, played out when one has to operate from the outside to probe into an office one held before, to look for clues and evidence without alerting the proverbial snake until the time is right. And playing probable snakes are a myriad of characters, with some of the best ensemble casting that any film will find envious of, such as Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Oldman himself, amongst others.
With the spate of public officials being caught with their pants down in various scandals here in Singapore, this film couldn't be more apt when one thinks about the kind of probes that get sanctioned in order to weed out the rot right at the top, such as the appointment of a commission of inquiry to go in with authority, and with a grave mission at hand to seek accountability. In essence that's what Smiley had to deal with, being tasked out of retirement to do just that and get down to the bottom of things, with what I thought was actually a brilliant masterstroke by the mole to do things in a certain personal way that will cast doubts into the mind of its possible, powerful adversary, thinking multiple steps ahead in deliberately measured chess game. And the fact is that the story is also quite close to real life, being le Carre's novelized account of his own experiences of the 50s and 60s scandal that revealed the Cambridge Five traitors within Britain.
In most real life spy versus spy cases, there's always a distinct lack of pomp or to keep things under wraps for fear of having one's cover blown apart, or jeopardizing the prospects of other agents. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy also subscribes to this mantra that shuns big movement and action, but in its place comes the real treasure of the intricate work done to uncover leaks and spies with tools of utmost secrecy, and diplomacy to a certain extent where deals get cut and made. It's old school spy 101, but has more than enough fuel in its tank to warrant repeat viewings just to catch all the subtleness and complexities. Highly recommended as the thinking man's spy thriller!
Greetings again from the darkness. Based on the best-selling 1974 John
LeCarre' spy novel, opinions on this movie will cover the full
spectrum. Many will find it painfully slow and impossible to follow.
Others will be thrilled with the subtle clues and reality-based
exchanges between British spies in the early 70's. This is no James
Bond thriller with exploding yachts, world class fist fights and
bikini-clad women. Rather, it's a peek at what real life spies do ...
huddle in soundproof rooms and exchange information through stunted
conversation where just shy of enough is said.
John LeCarre' actually worked for the British Secret Service prior to becoming an author (also wrote "The Constant Gardener" and "The Russia House"). He based the story around when a traitor was uncovered during the biggest scandal in the history of British intelligence. This story covers some of that and even more. We see how trust and loyalty are so crucial, yet none of these men ever fully trusts the fellow agent sitting next to him. Very little is spoken, but much is communicated through a nod, raised eye brow, a slight cock of the head, or even the adjustment of one's spectacles. Cigarettes and scotch are the common ground from which discussions spring.
Director Tomas Alfredson is from Sweden and delivered the exceptional vampire drama "Let the Right One In" a couple of years ago. Mr. Alfredson has a distinctive feel for the look of a film, and atmospheric is a word that fits this movie, as well as his earlier one. The tone, color and texture is key to this world and we are immersed in blues and grays. His camera work is unique and wondrous as he massages the small, confined spaces and allow us to pick up the gestures of all involved.
The cast is a group of wonderfully talented (mostly) men: Mark Strong, John Hurt (Control), Toby Jones (Tinker), Colin Firth (Tailor), Ciaran Hinds (Soldier), David Dencik (Poor Man)and Stephen Graham. Especially enjoyable are Tom Hardy as a rogue agent who breaks the "mole" theory wide open, Benedict Cumberbatch as the youngest agent, and of course, Gary Oldman as George Smiley. Oldman's performance will awe many and bore a few. This is a man trained to say only what must be said. You can see the resolve in his eyes. These still waters run VERY deep. Some will compare him to the performance of Sir Alec Guiness in the BBC production, and both terrific and strong.
While a rousing recommendation would be nice, it's just not in the cards. This movie will have a very specific audience ... those who thrive on mental jigsaw puzzles and are inspired by juggling an endless stream of characters and possible plots. If that describes you, then get in line on opening day.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" is an espionage film that isn't about
action and special effects so much as systematic investigation. There's
an analytical process at work, a logical deconstruction of the
situation at hand. This isn't to suggest that the film is a cold
collection of facts and figures; in its narrative methodology, it's a
deeply involving mystery, and at times, it's highly thrilling. We want
to get to the bottom of things just as badly as the characters do. And
unlike a lot of stories of intrigue, which can be too clever and
gimmicky for their own good, this one is genuinely unpredictable.
There's no telling where it will go, when things will happen, or how it
will end up. How nice that there are still mysteries that actively work
towards actually surprising the audience.
Adapted from the novel by John le Carré, the film weaves a convoluted yet engrossing tale of intrigue without resorting to romanticized James Bond spy clichés. There are no preposterous gadgets hidden in cufflinks or pens, no fancy sports cars with big engines, no scantily clad women. The agents aren't suave, svelte men in tuxedos with the phony fighting skills of a martial arts stunt coordinator; they work in offices and filing rooms, they have varying builds, they dress in average work clothing, and some of them look as if their years of service have prematurely aged them. This isn't the glamorized world of secret agents, but a daily grind. There are no super villains in hidden underground fortresses. There are only men with guns. And as the story demonstrates, having a gun doesn't necessarily make you the most dangerous person around.
Set during the early 1970s at the height of the Cold War, the film takes place mostly in England and centers on the hunt for a Soviet double agent who has infiltrated the top levels of the British secret service. It cuts back and forth through time, giving us pieces of the puzzle in teasing increments. It begins when the head of British Intelligence, nicknamed Control (John Hurt), sends an agent named Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Hungary on a mission, only for it to go horribly wrong; Soviet Intelligence got involved, resulting in someone getting shot. The uproar over the incident reaches all the way back to British Intelligence, codenamed The Circus, forcing Control and his right-hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) into retirement. The new chief, Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), is surrounded by agents who have established themselves by obtaining what seems to be high-grade material from Soviet Intelligence.
Smiley is brought back out of retirement when an agent named Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) comes forward claiming that there is mole on the senior staff of British Intelligence, and that there has been for many years. He could only go to Smiley with this information; he has been on the run following a mission to Istanbul, during which he was told about the mole, and the subsequent accusations of defection. As Smiley begins the process of interviewing former Circus operatives and obtaining sensitive yet pertinent information, it becomes increasingly evident that Tarr is telling the truth. Exactly who is the mole? Scenes of the senior staff staring at each other warily effectively add tension. Pay close attention to Alleline's deputy, Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), and close allies Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) and Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds).
The discovery of a surprise survivor leads to the revelation of suspect codenames Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, and Poorman (not Spy, as the title indicates), all conceived of by Control. I leave it to you to discover who among The Circus the codenames apply to. There is a final confrontation which is highly enjoyable, and yet it's not because of conventional tactics like a shootout, a daredevil escape, or an explosion; it's simply because the mystery has been solved. Action sequences can be a great deal of fun, and Lord knows I've recommended plenty of movies on those terms. That being said, there's a tremendous satisfaction that comes with nothing more or less than seeing the pieces finally falling into place. We've worked through the evidence and made the connections, and now we have the payoff.
Gary Oldman is sure to be noticed for his performance in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." As Smiley, he's not a super spy stereotype, but a dedicated man doing his job. I'm hard pressed to say that he loves what he does; he spends much of the film looking tired, and indeed, it's hard to imagine how a lifetime of covert missions and intense investigative work can be easy on the body. Despite his declining physical status (watch him as he gets up out of a chair), his mind remains razor sharp. He trusts his instincts. He knows who to talk to and where to get information. He keeps calm in every situation. He can get to the bottom of things, and he doesn't even need bullets. He actually thinks before he acts. How refreshing to see a secret agent that gets by on brains instead of brawn.
-- Chris Pandolfi (www.atatheaternearyou.net)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Someone at the top of the British Secret Service is a mole, passing
information to the Kremlin. George Smiley is tasked by the Foreign
Office with unmasking them.
For my money, there are two great (and very contrasting) spies in British literature - Ian Fleming's James Bond and John Le Carré's George Smiley, who is the antithesis of Bond; quiet, unassuming, brilliant, a player of pawns on the international stage. Oldman is just terrific here, one of those mesmerising performances where everything the character feels is in his eyes - he never even has to raise his voice. The support cast is good, with Strong and Cumberbatch both intriguing as Prideaux the captured agent, and Guillam, the young protégé, respectively. The movie is set in 1973 and the attention to detail is excellent with all the right cars and clothes, but more importantly the style - Alfredson's film could just as easily have been made in 1973 and will be just as taut and edgy forty years from now. This is a movie about paranoia and political manoeuvring in a male-dominated world and Smiley is the puppet-master who refuses to lose his cool no matter what the situation, as in the scene where he matter-of-factly accuses the minister of being indirectly responsible for the security leaks or the moment at the Christmas party where he discovers his wife is having an affair. This is a man who doesn't even take his glasses off whilst swimming. There are dozens of brilliant little touches, like the fly in the car scene or the moment of epiphany just as the train points click home, which add enormously to a rich and thought-provoking film. There is also a memorably understated piano score by Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias which drifts around the scenes with quiet intensity. Smiley's history is a little complex; he's a minor character in Le Carré's early books Call For The Dead and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold then the main protagonist in this, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People, but also appears on the periphery in a few other works. This book was filmed previously as an excellent 1979 BBC TV serial with Alec Guinness as Smiley, which is well worth catching if you can. This movie version however is a great old-fashioned thriller and a smashing adaptation of a tremendous spy novel.
Interesting views here; terribly polarized. Appears to be a love it or hate it movie and as for me I think I know why its detractors were so disappointed. Given the wonderful ensemble cast I think they expected a stronger plot line and narrative building up to the revelation of the "mole". This did not happen and because the film was too short the final few minutes with the "mole " revealed were a let-down. I usually love a good thriller/whodunnit but this did not measure up. I challenge anyone to declare that they knew who was the mole by evidence shown. I don't think Smiley was really sure an in any case there were no definitive reasons given for why the "mole" was a double-agent. I found Smiley rather tedious and I did have the odd yawn. The flash back technique was at times confusing, and the film feels to be rather pretentious,almost implying that it's very cerebral and if you don't like it then you must be a moron. I am not a moron; I was not expecting an action packed film by any means but this was too slow. The lack of character development was also a mistake. It falls into the category to watch again on DVD and maybe I will appreciate the nuances and tiny clues. As someone already said not suited for the big screen. For me Tom Hardy stood out with Cumberbatch also very competent. Hurt was playing himself as usual, the rest were not that noteworthy except for Kathy Burke's small role which was excellent. It did capture the mood and drabness of the seventies very well and the cinematography was faultless; look out for an Oscar or BAFTA in that category.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Without question, this is a film I'll have to watch another half dozen times or so to really know what's going on; the first two times just wasn't enough. And yet the story develops so methodically that it's impossible to divert one's attention because you know you'll miss something. Some will complain about the pacing and the non-linear story telling style but I found those elements drawing me in and forcing me to pay attention. Yet there's still that gnawing feeling that the film fell a clue or two short of allowing the viewer to figure out who the mole was sending information back to the Russians. In updated Charlie Chan fashion, Smiley (Gary Oldman) puts it all together but I really wanted to figure it out for myself, and so far I haven't been able to do it after a couple of tries. This is a quality film with excellent portrayals by a talented cast, so I'll be back again at some point. The haunting foreign rendition of "Beyond the Sea" at the finale was the icing on the cake for me.
John Le Carré is best known for his novel "the spy who came in from the cold",a 60s "spy" novel and also a noir film.The next good film from another novel of his was "tinker tailor soldier spy",a 70s film.I was curious to see the remake and it didn't disappoint me at all.A very,good,solid,complex film. The plot is really good.Mystery,patriotism,traitors and saviors.Gunfights?Not really.This is not an action film.You must stay focus or else you will miss the point.Is very important to stay focus from the first minute and don't let anything disturb you.Romance?Not really.The women in this film is not as it is in James Bond films.The director did his job well.The cast is really good and remember:This is not a Hollywood film!This is a mystery film!High quality!Highly recommended!
I consider myself to be well above average intelligence and well above
average film viewing experience, but I seriously struggled to
understand more than just the basic plot (well I got that after reading
the plot outline beforehand). If you would have asked me directly after
the film "Give me a summary of what happened there, and who was who and
who did what.", I really would have struggled to come up with a
In the end it reminds me a lot of films directed by George Clooney like Syriana. New characters, semi-connected events, snippets from conservations, new locations and different points in time come racing by so fast that it makes your head spin. In hindsight the details of the plot and how everything is connected become (a bit) clearer, and some things made me go "oh of course, that was connected to this or that". But because of the rate in which these elements pass by and the seemingly haphazard and minimalistic way in which supposedly logical steps in the plot are portrayed, I really couldn't keep up with it while watching the film.
And much like the film Syriana, this film gives you the feeling that the sense of chaos caused by how intricately complicated things tend to be in a geopolitical/economical setting (Syriana) or an espionage/intelligence setting (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy), seems to be exactly the effect that the film is deliberately trying to achieve in it's viewing experience. Well if their intention was to convey a sense of chaos, congratulations, they succeeded masterfully at that. But that really isn't my definition of a film as a worthwhile viewing experience.
Don't get me wrong, the cast was really impressive, the music and the locations were beautiful and the acting excellent. And I'm really not suggesting that every film has to come in bite-size chunks. But if an intelligent person with an advanced film viewing experience (and I wasn't the only one) is struggling to keep up with the plot, there is definitely something wrong with the film as a 'film', i.e. as an overall viewing experience.
Thoughts that come to my mind are:
- Wouldn't it have been possible to convey the message or thought that they were trying to convey, with a film with half the number of characters (maximum) that were in this film now?
- Could we introduce some sort of warning label for films that have as one of their main goals to convey a sense of the chaos and intricateness of the events and relations that form its setting, so next time I will be able to avoid them?
- Or should writers who don't know how to select, compact, trim and condense so to speak, maybe be prevented from trying to make a book into a film?
By the way, one might reason that the film might be a easier to follow after one has read the book (which admittedly I didn't), but I have heard from several people that the book is at least as difficult to understand as the film, and what's more, doesn't guarantee at all that the film will be easier to understand then.
Well shoot me for trampling on the impressive achievement that a lot of people seem to think this film is. But as I said, I judge a film by the end results; a film is a viewing experience, intended for viewers; to be viewed, and I suppose also understood by them to a certain point, although apparently I might be mistaken on that last bit. Anyway that's just my opinion, and in the light of the above I really can't give this film more than a 4 out of 10.
If this review makes the blood boil (or worse) of people who loved this film than so be it, but I hope my review will at least serve to warn some other like-minded film viewers before going to see this, just so you know what to expect...
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