Turn off the Lights

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Review

Kieran’s Rating: 9/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 8.0/10
(4 reviews total)

In recent years we have seen an expansion in the spy thriller genre. Whether it is the “new Bond” series or the “Bourne” trilogy, the action-oriented movies like the “Mission: Impossible” series and Salt, or contemporary affairs such as Body of Lies and Rendition, spies are all over the place. This new adaptation of the John le Carré novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sets out to be a much more complex and grounded affair than the usual spy flicks.

In 1973, a failed operation in Budapest forces Control (John Hurt), the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (better known as the Circus) and his loyal deputy George Smiley (Gary Oldman) to resign in disgrace. A year later, the new head of the Circus, Sir Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), believes the time is right to share intelligence with the Americans about their top source in Moscow named Witchcraft. But a returning agent, Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) reports that one of the top men at the Circus is a Soviet Mole. Smiley is brought from the cold in to investigate these claims with Circus handler Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) and ex-police officer Mendel (Roger Lloyd-Park). He digs deeper to find out a secret that could rock the British intelligence establishment.


Coming off the back of Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson makes a very complex, slow-burning thriller. The mystery is unveiled gradually and Alfredson shows a stark, cold world of espionage. Even the interior of the Circus’ headquarters, is a dark, soulless place particularly because of the historical exterior. There is no glamor in this world; action is kept to a minimum and when it does happen it is very quick and brutal. This stark tone is established early on with a slow, tense build up and a subtle score to cue you in that something is wrong. It then results in an innocent woman getting shot in the head. Alfredson and the writing team certainly capture the plot of the novel and the tone of realism while taking some chances to make the movie their own.

The cast is akin to a “Harry Potter” movie, a.k.a some of the best British actors around. Everyone is natural and captures his character. Oldman is not quiet the Smiley in the novel, who is described as having a chubby and frog/toad-like appearance as well as a nice if cool and lonely man. Oldman gives us his own version of Smiley, a harsher person who’s very internal, but he is still a very intelligent and focused man who is easily the best man to solve this case.


Hardy makes Ricki Tarr out as a very soft-spoken and meek man, who just happens to be an MI6 assassin and field officer. He is almost like a lost boy thrown into a complex world. Jones developed a strange accent as he is very accurate to the character in the book. Firth too gives a strong performance as one of the few people at the Circus who shows competence. The lesser-known Cumberbatch shows why he is an emerging actor and pretty much; he has the second biggest role in the movie.

The plot is loosely based on real-life double agent Kim Philby and le Carre’s experience with him. The actual plot seems simple enough, but there is so much more to it in the way this mystery unfolds. It is impossible to show all the character backgrounds and internal politics described in the novel, but Alfredson did what he could to show it. Some of the characters were pushed aside as a result, but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a strong adaptation, both a smart spy thriller and a period piece. Rating: 9/10


Sam thought:
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the sort of film I feel the need to warn people about before they see it. It’s being called a slow-burner, but that would imply a kind of growth in heat and some semblance of it to begin with. Rather, the film is glacial in both pace and emotion, and when the action does flare up, its often as quick and unexpected as it is brutal. There’s no room for emotion in le Carré’s world: sympathy ends in punishment, and some audience members will wonder why at all we should care about a retro mole hunt at the top of British intelligence when it’s never assured what’s at stake. This is a complex, uncompromising portrayal of the bureaucracy at the heart of real Cold War intelligence that can make you feel two steps behind when nothing is happening and the smartest one in the room once you’ve finally caught up. Indeed, the concentration that it takes can make it easy to overlook the universally brilliant performances, the beautiful visuals and the way Alfredson’s camera shows the psychological damage that takes effect once war moves off the battlefield. Make no mistake, “Tinker Tailor” is a unique take on the spy genre that champions plot above all else, one where the frontline is all around you and minutia is everything. Just don’t expect a comforting pat on the head once it’s all played out.” Rating: 8/10

Steven thought: “It admittedly sounds pathetic to rebuke a film for not playing to the interests of the feeble-minded general public, but in a film this loaded with talent, one that’s sure to attract moviegoers outside of the select circle for which it’s intended, a cold shoulder seems harsh. Audiences need to be aware the film is unrelentingly slow and completely plot-driven, that little reward comes at the end of the two-hour tunnel. That’s not to say the filmmaking of “Tinker Tailor” lacks any semblance of quality. In fact, it’s masterfully constructed; the script and Alfredson’s direction simply choose to be uncompromising in the vision for and presentation of le Carré’s story. Slow burn would be the best way to describe the suspense, but there’s no bomb at the end of the fuse. Alfredson, a force to be reckoned with in the future, consciously mutes any big reveals or moments when culmination seems in sight, and the moments the story sucks you in or gives you a piece of the puzzle, it always finds a way to languish and lose your attention. At least there’s a sense of comfort in knowing this was an artistic choice, not simply the result of ignorant filmmaking. At the same time, apathy — artistically rationalized or not — is not an emotion anyone enjoys leaving a movie theater with.” Rating: 5.5/10

John thought: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a superior thriller that accomplishes the unfathomable in condensing John LeCarre’s masterful British espionage novel into an appropriately dense but followable two-hour film. And shockingly, not a ton of important detail is lost in the translation. Alfredson (following up the sensational Let the Right One In) deserves a great deal of credit for making the slow-burn source material really smolder on screen. The gorgeous cinematography of Hoyte Van Hoytema and the breathtakingly tense score from Alberto Iglesias certainly help. But the best-in-show award goes to screenwriters O’Connor and Straughan. I wish this came out a year earlier so The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo team could take note. This is how you adapt a long novel for the movies.” Rating: 9.5/10

 

Rating
8.0

Liked this article? Try These!

Comments

Meet the Author

Follow Us