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Hal2001 01-07-2012 02:43 PM

Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is based on the popular spy novel by John le Carre which was previously adapted into a TV miniseries back in 1979. Having never read the book or seen the miniseries, I walked into the new version of the film having been forewarned that it can be a bit hard to keep track of what with multiple characters and events having been condensed from a complex novel, and while it is a little hard to follow at times, it’s not the audience I would blame for this problem.

The story begins as Control (John Hurt), head of British Intelligence, sends Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) on a mission to Hungary to try and attempt to bring a possible defector to their side who supposedly knows the identity of a mole at MI6. However, the mission goes wrong, resulting in Control and one of his agents, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), being removed from service. However, when Jim fills George in on Control’s suspicions of a mole, George sets out to discover their identity.

Based on the intelligence leaked, Control believed the mole was someone at the very top, someone in his personal circle, which includes Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), and George. It’s up to George to find out which one of these men is responsible, but having been forced into retirement doesn’t make this an easy task, causing him to recruit another agent, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), to assist in the investigation.

To put it simply, “Tinker Tailor Solder Spy” has a good story in it somewhere, but you wouldn’t really know that from its poor execution here. The structure of it is quite strange. This is a film where not much happens, and yet you have to be particularly observant when it comes to even the most mundane event or the passing mention of a character because it may become important later.

Most of the runtime of the film is spent on events that have little to do with George’s investigation. There’s even a good deal of the first half spent listening to the story of a disgraced agent, Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), that has practically nothing to do with it at all. All of these events lead up to an ending that feels incredibly rushed. In a bizarre choice, the filmmakers opted to squeeze the majority of the actual plot into the last 20 or so minutes.

One of the major problems with this is that they haven’t bothered to develop the suspects with all of the time wasted away on those events which didn’t add much, if anything, to the story, so by the time we get around to who was responsible, it feels random and even a bit lazy. You’ll also probably be asking yourself, if it was that easy to find out who did it, why didn’t George just do that sooner?

There are parts that are hard to follow, but as mentioned earlier, the audience is hardly to be blamed for this. To be asked to put together a puzzle when pieces are missing or not explained very well can be hard to do. I got most of the plot, but even after perusing the screenplay, parts of the conclusion I had to put together based on guesses due to the lack of explanation and plot points.

It’s a shame that so many of the characters are left undeveloped because there’s such a great cast here including Gary Oldman, John Hurt, and Colin Firth. Oldman is a particular oddity here. Usually he plays much more eccentric characters, but here he’s very subdued, speaking softly and never in a rush to get anything done. You could even go so far as to say that he’s pretty bland. Here’s the performance that we’ve been hearing so much about, one that could possibly get him an Oscar nomination, and it turns out that it’s a pretty forgettable one.

The film comes to us from director Tomas Alfredson, who brought us the excellent vampire film “Let the Right One In.” That was a film where slow pacing and dark mood helped out quite a bit because the time was spent allowing us to get to know the characters and allowing us to connect and care about them. The slow pacing of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is merely squandered on several unimportant events instead of important character and plot development, so that when it comes to the sped up pacing of those last 20 minutes, you’re left wondering why you should care about who was responsible.

From watching the film, it ends up feeling like maybe reading the book should be a prerequisite, or perhaps viewing the five-hour miniseries would be a good idea. Perhaps with all that extra time, the story is fully explained and the characters are allowed to develop to the point where we know who they are. By the end of this version, you may know the basic plot, but questions will arise that you’ll wish they took the time to answer. 2.5/4 stars.

thebarkingturnip 01-08-2012 11:43 PM

My own review of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
I think I liked this one more than you did.

Still, great review!

Check mine out here:


Mr.HyDe807 01-09-2012 02:31 PM

Director Tomas Alfredson’s first English film outing about the spy game in the Cold War could be compared to one of those 5000 piece puzzles. It may seem overwhelming at first and a bit of a chore to go through with others, but over time the pieces slowly start to come together and there’s a bit of a appreciation to what those puzzle creators go through.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy shows the world of spies in a much more subdued manner than the world of James Bond and Jason Bourne. If the idea of “The pen is mightier than the sword” were put into play in the film world, then Tinker Tailor would be that apt of a comparison. There’s no real flash of action apart from one or two brief, but effective scenes involving the characters, and its mostly back-and-forth with the characters within an office room, the roof, or somebody’s home. The film is mostly a ticking time bomb, waiting for the reveals of the film’s plot to blow up when needed.

The character that holds this tense spy thriller together is George Smiley (Gary Oldman), an MI6 agent that has been forced to retire, along with the leader of MI6 Control (John Hurt), after a failed mission in Hungary. However, not long after does Smiley retire that the British government contacts Smiley with vital information gathered from Control, which stated that there was a mole for the Russians at the top of MI6’s branch. This leads Smiley to recruit his protégé Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) and delve back into the world of espionage to uncover the elusive mole.

If there’s a thing that most surprising about this film is how complex it appears in the first two acts, but unfortunately becomes as basic as a film about espionage could be. There’s certainly a entourage of well-known British actors in this film, from Tom Hardy to Colin Firth, but most of the suspects in the film just feel like window dressing that never creates a world where anybody could be mole. Only a few actors have characters that have exposition for the story that is enough to be dynamic, while other are just there to bring up a surprising twist to change the cogs for the movie viewer’s expectation of how its all going to end.

It’s a bit of a shame as everyone makes the most of their roles, however brief or expanded that they feel. Oldman brings a meticulous and complex character in Smiley, showing that he always thinks before he acts, and that the action is the best-case scenario. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Peter is pretty much the opposite of Smiley, feeling as if the world of espionage is more complex to have a good grasp of control on it. Other notables are Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr, a burdened agent that has his own interesting storyline that is told through flashback, and Colin Firth who brings a bit of a James Bond charm to his character of Bill Haydon, despite the fact that he’s mostly behind the desk.

The rest of supporting cast is also solid, but they always feel like they are supporting, despite their screen time. Toby Jones, David Denick, and Ciarian Hinds appear as other members of Smiley’s MI6 group who are on the suspect list of being the Russian mole, but with their lack of exposition apart from other characters, they can feel a bit inconsequential apart from one or two scenes. That’s what the problem is with this film’s plot regarding the long list of characters, there’s just so many roles that feel a bit shortchanged that if a certain character could be revealed as the mole, some viewers may feel it as a cheat, or simply shrug their shoulders when the conclusion comes to fruition.

But, despite a bit cluttered cast of characters in the film, Alfredson certainly brings a life behind the camera lens. The world feels thick with atmosphere of the 1960s, whether it’s in different world settings or in the MI6 office, and he certainly knows how to make a scene where simply stealing a file from the MI6 archive is brimmed with tension. Alfredson certainly made a name for himself with the great vampire movie Let The Right One In, and he certainly has great future in filmmaking.

Unfortunately, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy just didn’t have that resonance that Let the Right One in so clearly had, apart from good acting and direction. The story doesn’t come alive apart from certain spots of the film involving flashbacks of certain characters, as well as other characters feeling a it short changed in the proceedings. Alfredson certainly knows the feel of a spy movie, but it’s just unfortunate that all the puzzle pieces didn’t come together for a truly great spy film.


JoeChar4321 01-31-2012 09:38 PM

I'm so happy for Gary Oldman. He deserves all the awards and praise he now generates because he's been undervalued for far too long.

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