PG Cooper: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Review

Posted: January 21, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Release date: September 16th, 2011 (UK)

Running time: 127 minutes

Written by: Bridget O ‘Connor and Peter Straughan

Based on: The novel of the same name by John le Carre

Directed by: Tomas Alfredson

Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Ciarán Hinds

I don’t remember when I first saw the trailer for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but I do distinctly remember my reaction. It went something like this, “HOLY SHIT!!! THIS LOOKS AMAZING” Hyperbolic as my reaction may have been, I truly believed Tinker was gonna be something special, something I’d remember for years to come.

The film takes place mostly in 1976, through the eyes of British secret intelligence. After a mission in Hungary goes drastically wrong, it is believed there is a mole in the organization. Not trusting the people in the organization, the burden of finding the mole is shifted to Norman Smiley (Gary Oldman), a former British agent himself. He has to investigate his own team, played by Colin Firth, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones, and David Dencik.

The plot description I gave sounds pretty straight forward, but the truth is this is one of the most confusing films I’ve seen in recent memory. I’m not gonna lie, I felt pretty lost at points. I consider myself a smart individual, but I really struggled to keep up with the film. I don’t think I was the problem either, since the people I was with didn’t seem to really “get it” either. Part of the problem may lie in the very basis of adapting such material. I can’t say I’ve read le Carre’s 400 plus page novel, but I do know it was  adapted into a seven part BBC mini-series with Alec Guinness in the 1970’s. Seven parts, that’s over five hours. Here, the story is compressed into just a little over two.

I don’t think the problem is just the basis, but also the execution. Simply put, this is a very dry and boring film. All these characters speak in a jargon that most aren’t likely to understand. The film never tries to help it’s audience either. I’m not saying I wanted the film to spell it out for me, but I didn’t wanna be left completely in the dark either. The film is shot in with a sense of detachment and I found myself not attached to anything. It’s hard to keep track of all these characters and even keep the names straight. You feel like you need a notebook with you just to follow the plot. Finally, when the mole is finally revealed, I have no idea how they came to that conclusion. You don’t see any evidence, or the thought process that brought Smiley to that conclusion.

Now it is possible if I watched it again, I’d understand the plot a lot better, but I don’t think it would make the film much better. This film is lacking in any emotion almost whatsoever. The people investigating the mole don’t seem to really care about the situation, they just seem to be going through the motions. I also don’t really care about any of these characters. The only reason I liked Oldman and Hardy’s characters is because I like those actors. On a deeper level, despite the film being very complicated, it isn’t really about anything deeper than the core of it’s plot. There aren’t any deeper themes or ideas to analyze. Compare this to Fernando Meirelles 2005 film The Constant Gardener, another le Carre adaptation. The film was rich in style, had very relevant themes, and was all based around a very human and emotional story. None of that can be said for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

A strong selling point for the film was the cast. It worked on me. Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Cirian Hinds, Mark Strong, etc. I could not wait to see all these actors play off each other. Well, none of the actors are bad, but it isn’t the performance showcase I was hoping for. Mainly because these actors are playing such cold characters that it’s really hard to like them. The performances themselves are pretty good, especially Gary Oldman, but these aren’t the award worthy performances I was expecting.

There are moments of greatness in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that keep it a float, but on the whole, the film is a confusing mess devoid of any emotion. This isn’t easy for me to say either. I was so hyped for this film it’s insane. Disappointed isn’t a word that accurately describes how I felt leaving the theater. I would prefer the term “heart broken”. It isn’t a horrible film, but it is a bad one. Do yourself a favour and skip this. If you want a thrilling le Carre adaptation, check out The Constant Gardener.

Rating: D+

  1. CMrok93 says:

    With all of the constant information being thrown at us, I think that we could have had a bit more of an extended time-limit to really let everything sink in but with the amazing performances from everybody involved, and the assured direction from Alfredson, this ends up being a pretty good mystery flick that just needed more time. Good review PG.

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