Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy



Rating

Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Stephen Graham, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon McBurney, Roger Lloyd – Pack, Kathy Burke, Christian McKay, David Dencik, Toby Jones, John Hurt. Written by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan, from the novel by John le Carré.

Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has a near-impossible task: to hold up to John le Carré’s much-loved cold war-era source novel and the definitive 1979 BBC miniseries, which starred Alec Guinness as George Smiley. That miniseries ran for seven episodes and some 315 minutes; this new movie condenses the complete story down to two hours.

That the film doesn’t match what has come before it is no surprise; what is a surprise is that a movie with this much pedigree, in front of and behind the camera, is so carelessly scripted. Having recently re-watched the miniseries, I was aware at all times what was happening in the story, and yet I was still confused; confused as to what, exactly, screenwriters Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor (Straughan’s wife, who died in 2010) were trying to convey in their deviations from the source.

Viewers unfamiliar with the source material, I’m afraid, will have little idea what’s going on; not necessarily with the story, which is explained to the audience by the end, but with everything else: characters, motivations, relationships, themes and ideas are all muddled. So muddled that I began to think it was intentional, as if the writers felt a spy movie needed to be extraordinarily difficult to follow.

That’s a real shame, because in all other regards, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an absolutely first-rate production.

Starting with the cast: Gary Oldman is no Alec Guinness, but he’s the next best thing as George Smiley. Smiley is called out of retirement by Civil Servant Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney) after Lacon learns from discredited agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) that there is a mole at the very top of British Intelligence (“The Circus”). Together with current agent Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) and ex-agent Mendel (Roger Lloyd-Pack), Smiley begins an investigation.

The suspects: the current head of The Circus, Percy Alleline (Toby Jones); his deputy Bill Haydon (Colin Firth); and Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). Despite the casting, because these characters have little to do in the actual storyline, they’re all underdeveloped.

This isn’t the first time they’ve been suspected as potential moles; the previous head of The Circus, Control (John Hurt) sent agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Hungary (Czechoslovakia in the novel) to gather intel. That ended badly when Prideaux was shot, and resulted in Control and Smiley being dismissed from The Circus.

Among the cast, Stephen Graham and Kathy Burke also make impressions as interviewees. It’s a good thing they cast so many familiar faces (and excellent actors), because these characters – even Smiley – are just barely sketched. Huge subplots – including one with Smiley’s wife, Ann – have been altered. I found myself not trying to figure out what’s happening, I know that already, but trying to figure out what changes have been made, and why. However, there’s simply not enough information on the screen to allow for that.

Am I wrong? Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has an impressive 84% on the Tomatometer, including a 91% cream-of-the-crop. It’s scored three Oscar nominations, including one for screenplay. While I heartily recommend checking out the BBC miniseries first, this version does have its merits.

Those include: cold, harsh cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema, an excellent soundtrack by Alberto Iglesias, and Julio Iglesias’ La Mer, which plays over the closing montage. The film looks and sounds terrific, and at the very least, director Alfredson (Let the Right One In) has proven himself in the English-language realm. I only wish he was working from a more comprehensible script.



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