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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a more realistic version of the spy world. Unlike movies like James Bond, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, etc. this movie revolves around a more realistic spy investigation, and what spies are more likely to experience when working on a case. The movie is based on a book written by John Le Carre in 1974, and is set in 1973. The plot is set mainly on mind games, not fast paced action and intense battle scenes. A viewer must pay close attention to understand and follow the plot. The ending is also extremely hard to understand, and has left critics amazed at the sheer complexity of the plot.
However, as I do not want to spoil the entire movie for whomever may be reading this review, I will only state that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is for those looking for a challenging puzzle to resolve. Note there is a little sexual reference and a few very gory scenes also, so parent advisory for children is strongly recommended. This is definitely not a kids movie.
I picked up this movie when I had heard positive reviews from both critiques and friends alike. I must say I quite enjoyed the film, and enjoyed the challenge of decoding and understanding the plot. Like I mentioned earlier though, it was quite hard to follow and I ended up needing to google search the meaning of the film in the end.
I recommend this movie to those looking for a hard puzzle to solve.
*film only review*
I always feel that I want see whichever films people are talking about, especially when there are award nominations involved. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, based on the John le Carre novel, released in 2011 was nominated for 3 Oscars (including Best Actor, for Gary Oldman) at the 2012 awards and won the 2012 Bafta for Outstanding British Film, as well as a host of other nominations.
With such an accolade of support behind it, I checked it out. As the credits roles, I realised that was 127 minutes of my life that I was never going to get back. I wasn't really familiar with Le Carre's books, featuring spy, George Smiley. I vaguely recalled something about Alec Guinness being in the original TV version, but other than that, I was raw in my knowledge of all things TTSS.
Skandinavian Director, Tomas Alfredon (who previous to this directed "Let The Right One In") led the film through its dark and depressingly shot 1970s era adventure. Whilst I'm sure he's a very good director, I found it hard to keep my eyes open - I'm sure I even dozed off for a good 10 minutes - whilst I doubt that 10 minutes contained the action and excitement that I thought the film was lacking. When it was over, I couldn't help but think that I should have taken more time to study the back of my eye lids some more.
I just didn't find the plot gripping enough, or the narrative very well delivered. Smiley is a retired spy, who gets invited back to the British Secret Service to unravel a mystery involving a mole agent, and a Soviet intelligence operation. The BSS's reputation is also unraveling, due to a disastrous operation in Hungary, which resulted in the shooting of a key player, so Smiley is the only one that can make sense of it all and save the day. What a joy! ...Bored yet?
Gary Oldman was very good in the role, and I was also delighted to see the wonderful Kathy Burke on the big screen (although, not for long enough) as well as the nation's hero, Colin Firth. Notable actors worth mentioning are John Hurt and Benedict Cumberbatch, who unite to send us off to sleepsville. The dashingly handsome, Tom Hardy was enough to keep me awake though, although he did look like a dodgy 70s porn star, with tragic hair.
Whilst the execution of the film was impressive, with some gorgeous cityscape shots, giving you a nostalgic and thank-god-we're-done-with-the-1970s flair, the whole thing just felt like a spoonful of depression. Sometimes I watch something and it makes me feel so unmotivated to do anything else, because it has put you in such a sludgy, mental stupor - that's what this film did for me. I'm giving it 2 stars, 1 for Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Kathy Burke, and another star for Tom Hardy.
If you are feeling super bored, and really have nothing else to do, and it happens to be available to watch, then give it a go - otherwise you would do better to settle for a Tina Fey classic, and at least have a little chuckle, life's too short.
Although this is a film only review, I can tell you that the Blu-ray features:
- Commentary with Gary Oldman & director Tomas Alfredson
- John le Carré interview
- Deleted scenes
- Smiley featurette
- Inside the circus featurette
- Shadow world featurette
- John le Carré featurette
- Interviews with Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy (swoon), director Tomas Alfredson and screenwriter Peter Straughan
- UK premiere featurette
- Sky movies featurette
- Photo gallery
...what a joy!
Thanks for reading
© MarcoG 2012
It is based on John le Carre's novel by the same name set in the heady days of the cold war of the early 1970s where British and Soviet Union spies sparred at the highest level and it was common for moles to appear and reappear at the very head of these spy agencies. John le Carre's spy series revelled in intricate plots, enigmatic spies, and subtle clues, more like a game of chess than one of poker.
The Plot without giving the story away
It is a typical Le Carre plot where a KGB (former Soviet Union spy agency) mole has infiltrated the very top of the British counterpart MI6. Earlier attempts to locate and neutralise him had gone badly wrong for former MI6 head Control's (John Hurt) resulting in the death of operative Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) and his unceremonious ouster. Now shady characters head various departments of the MI6.
In this situation, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a disgraced former MI6 agent is invited back and given the task to find and eliminate the KGB mole who is deeply embedded at the very top of the MI6. The first suspect is agent Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) who is negotiating frantically in trying to rescue his Soviet lover. But as the plot thickens and the intrigue develops, the suspect is narrowed down to the former MI6 chief's replacements preposterously codenamed 'Tinker', 'Tailor', 'Soldier' and 'Poorman'. Smiley and his hardworking loyal sidekick Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) then get on the job to locate this Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
The Intrigue again without giving mole away
Firstly, is there really a mole? Can an institution that swears itself by diehard loyalty and heady nationalism be compromised by its own trusted men? And even if there was such a thing could it rise to be at the very top? So supreme that a MI6 chief had to face the sack and his trusted operative shown the eternal door? Who are the men who have replaced him? Are they to be trusted? Could the mole be its new chief Percy (Toby Jones), or can it be his best mate Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), or maybe it is his assistant Esterhase (David Dencik) or perhaps it is the flamboyant Bill Haydon (Colin Firth)?
And what about the corresponding sub plot of the agent who teaches at a school now after being betrayed? Can there be a link? Do the two strands ever twine? Mark Strong as the betrayed agent is terrific in propagating the mystery and the film preserves its secret well for an astonishing climax.
It is not in the mould of a Bond with its high tech gadgetry and sensuous women, nor is it like Bourne with its dash and action packed sequences. It is old fashioned spy thriller with realistic spies engaged in genuine spycraft.
It is those days when spies depended on the usual break-ins and stealing log-books. It is those days when spies depended on their memory and others too, and not on high tech gadgets to unravel secrets. It was those days where spies ran down spies by wrapping them in interrogative conversations extricating hidden truths.
The Oscar nominated Oldman is wonderful. His restrained mannerisms, his measured modulations, his reflective pauses and his interrogative technique are simply superb.
The others British thespians also play their part brilliantly without ever overwhelming the character they play.
The Director and his team
It is directed by the famous Swedish director, Tomas Alfredson. It is a thoroughly gentleman film handled in a very special way helped by Alredson's Scandinavian aesthetic austerity. He brings about the Britishness in the film not only with its straight-cut suits, drab office buildings accompanied by the stiff upper lip but also with the intelligent use of the soundtrack. Though, the film in not very warm or hospitable with its interwoven plots, hosts of important characters that are all too difficult to comprehend and enigmatic mysteries not helped by screenwriters Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan unyielding loyalty to the original novel, Alfredson makes it respectable and rewarding.
It is a brain teaser. The enemy is unseen which makes it mysteriously enigmatic. The evil Karla, the KGB boss always stays under cover while the traitor spars with Smiley. Smiley has comes back after being disgraced by his boss Control botched up an earlier mission to find the traitor. He dies soon after but leaves behind a trail of suspicions.
It is tediously slow and not for those used to manic chases, crazy shooting and monster brawls. It is clever, adroit, deceptive and absorbing. It is as close as a film can become a Carre novel. It is dexterously delicious.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was one of the best spy novels of its time and the movie is one of the best spy movies of our times. It is thoroughly engrossing. It exercises your brains and keeps you anticipating as a spy thriller should.
The blu-ray effect transports you to the Cold War period of early 1970s by augmenting the very grain of the film. You can visualize details of minute proportions. The close-ups are brilliant. Oldman shots are not only brilliant but outstanding. The facial details stand out - the hair, the clothes, the shadows and the silhouettes. The colours are sharp though not necessarily bright which gives it a washed down 1970s feel. Some might feel that dark and grey scenes are a bit overdone to enhance the dull and coldness of the shot but it does not tend to interfere and where it does it seems on purpose.
The music score is on DTS-HD 5.1 which boosts the sound quality immensely. The visuals had given us a sense of the time; the music sets the sense of space. On listening to the track alone you can sense the locale. It puts you into the centre of the action or in many cases, inaction or silence - the prelude to a coming action.
The big let-down is that it has ignored the fact that a person seeks to have a blu-ray copy essentially for its bonus features. Otherwise he could have been satisfied seeing it in a theatre. There is a DVD and digital copies but there is no additional bonus features beyond some deleted scenes, a commentary with Alfredson and Oldman, a 'first look' that provides token background on plot and film and interviews with crew and cast including John le Carre. Carre's interview is the highlight of the bonus feature providing plethora of interesting information. I had wished for a lot more bonus features especially for a film of such intrigue and powerful performance.
Also in ciaouk under same name and title
This Blu-ray/DVD release is about £15.
It was disappointing when this film didn't win anything major during the recent awards season, but I guess that's the way it goes. It skilfully adapts John Le Carré's classic novel about spies betraying one another, and is a far more satisfying thriller than films with a million times more gunfights.
1974. The British secret service has been infiltrated by a 'mole' - a Soviet double agent. Control, the head of the service (SIS, but known in the film as 'the Circus'), has got wind of this, but after an operation he mounts to uncover the mole goes wrong, leaving an agent dead behind the Iron Curtain, Control is forced out (and dies). Also forced out is his loyal deputy, unassuming George Smiley. But then new evidence emerges from rogue agent Ricki Tarr, and Smiley is called out of retirement to find out which of the Circus's top men is the traitor.
John Le Carré's novel was written at a time when the British secret service was especially worried about infiltrators. Following on from Kim Philby's notorious defection, there was a spasm of paranoia and accusation as the hunt was on for the 'fifth man'. Le Carré himself had been involved in the world of espionage, and this, his best known story, evokes the Philby saga without ever naming him. The novel was made into a hugely celebrated BBC drama series in the late 70s starring Alec Guinness. It's a brave man who would tread on such hallowed turf, but Alfredson, director of the nifty Swedish vampire movie Let The Right One In, has done a pretty damn good job of it.
The biggest achievement is probably cramming the novel into two hours without losing anything important. Two characters have been combined into one, and Smiley's wife, the eternally unfaithful Anne, only appears in profile or at a distance. A few corners are cut, and the end is a little bit rushed. But on the whole this stays faithful to the book, and does most of the things the TV series managed to do, but in about one third the screentime. A reasonably attentive viewer should be able to keep up with everything.
It does not necessarily feel like the most cinematic subject. Although notionally a thriller, there are no scenes of particular suspense (the only potentially suspenseful scene is slightly spoiled by bad acting). It's really just a collection of dialogue scenes, far better suited to TV or radio (there was a very good recent radio adaptation too - this is the third adaptation of this novel). But the film justifies its existence pretty well. There's a lot of visual interest, most of which works rather well. There are exciting sequences in Budapest and Istanbul, and it's all very cinematic (tracking shots, long shots, etc), opening it up from the small scale TV visual style without feeling gratuitous.
The best addition to the plot is a rowdy office Christmas party at the Circus, which acts as a neat way of quickly signposting a lot of information about the relationships between the various characters. It looks like it must have been a lot of fun working in espionage in the early 70s, apart from all the betrayal and adultery. There's a bit of nudity and violence thrown in to spice things up slightly, but this is a world away from the big dumbass spy movies that we are usually offered.
Not everything is successful. There are a couple of clumsy visual metaphors, one involving a bee and a particularly stupid one involving an owl on fire. (That last one is really silly. The whole point of the story is the mundanity of everything about these people's lives in spite of the supposedly exciting nature of their work. To have a burning owl fly out of a chimney at you is something that probably doesn't happen to anyone in the real world.)
There's an unwise attempt to up the ante slightly by suggesting that the mole might get access to American intelligence, which misses the point. We don't care what the mole is doing, as this is all set in the 1970s and relates to a Cold War that ended long ago. You don't make him more interesting by increasing his level of threat to an intelligence network that the audience has no stake in. There's also a wince-inducing scene where Smiley gets to have a go at the minister of defence for being too ready to believe intelligence he wants to believe, regardless of whether it's true. Do you think we're expected to draw parallels with modern political events, and therefore feel the film is more 'relevant'?
It's set in the 1970s, so has to recreate the world of that decade. Although there's a lot of old-fashioned product placement, the film resists the temptation to go all Rock and Roll Years on us. The most prominent songs we hear are a cover of La Mer by Julio Iglesias and Mr Woo's a Window Cleaner Now by George Formby, which feels like they belong to a different age, just like the spies themselves. Costumes and hairstyles and the like are all immaculate, but don't particularly draw attention to themselves. Fun though it might have been to have someone dressed as Ziggy Stardust walk past in the background, it probably wouldn't have helped the film.
Instead everything feels just right. The interior of the Circus is beautifully realised, a mixture of state-of-the-art (for 1974) with old-fashioned civil service chic. Obviously it's nowhere near Cambridge Circus, which is where it is located in the novels, but the largely computer generated building certainly looks impressive. The little rituals and the completely convincing jargon create a world which feels absolutely right (very possibly they're based on John Le Carré's real experiences of working in that environment).
It's impossible not to compare the cast in this version with their counterparts in the TV serial. For the most part, they more than match up to the earlier versions, with perhaps a couple of exceptions (Mark Strong is fine as Prideaux, but he's no Ian Bannen; likewise Kathy Burke as Connie - Beryl Reid was in a different league). A couple of the cast even beat their revered TV counterparts - I liked Tom Hardy as Tarr rather more than I did Hywel Bennett. Otherwise we get an acting master class from seasoned veterans like John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds and Colin Firth, all of whom fit their parts very well, and generally play things differently enough to banish memories of the older version.
Gary Oldman himself has the toughest job, having to both make Smiley a character we can relate to in spite of his lack of emotion; and of course weather the inevitable comparisons to the revered Alec Guinness. He manages admirably, and really should have won more awards than he did. He's less cuddly than Guinness, showing a harder edged Smiley, a man more credibly willing to do whatever it takes to bring down the mole. Occasionally - very occasionally - strong emotion surfaces. This is a great performance from an actor I'd long ago given up on.
It's not all positive, sadly. Benedict Cumberbatch is lousy as Peter Guillam, Smiley's main ally. This is a shame, as he's been reliably good in everything else I've seen him do. There's an especially poor moment when he has to express his anger with someone which he completely fumbles, and it's impossible to take him completely seriously afterwards.
But one weak performance can't seriously damage what is a very impressive film indeed. Tomas Alfredson looks like someone worth keeping an eye on, and hopefully everyone will find time to do a movie of the sequel, Smiley's People.
I really don't understand the point of these double play sets. I'd far rather have just bought the Blu-ray by itself.
As a modern film, the Blu-ray obviously looks great. It is perhaps not the flashiest of films, using a muted colour palette consisting largely of brown and dull orange, presumably to evoke the 1970s. So it's never going to leap out at you. But there's an impressive level of detail, the blacks are nice and black and there's appropriate grain in the image.
The DVD looks like the Blu-ray, only a bit less sharp.
The extras are a bit weak. Various 'featurettes' and interviews are generally puff-pieces made to advertise the film and don't offer much real insight (especially poor is a piece made for Sky Movies).
There's a commentary by director Tomas Alfredson and Gary Oldman, but it's rather disappointing. Both men speak very slowly, and it is ponderous and rather dull. There's not much insight into, say, why certain decisions were made; it's more of a 'oh, do you remember filming that bit?' commentary, which is probably interesting for the participants but isn't particularly fun for the audience.
The only really good extra is a half-hour interview with John Le Carré, who is incredibly articulate, intelligent, and generally likeable as he talks us through the ideas that inspired the book and the realities of life in the world of spies back in his day.
But on the whole, although the extras could be better, this is well worth getting - the film is an intelligent treat for anyone wishing that Bond and Bourne would just bugger off.
Before I start the review I will say that I have not read John Le Carré's novel that the film is based nor have I seen the TV series. I decided to buy the film for my boyfriend who was disappointed that he missed it at the cinema. I'd like to say I loved the film when we settled down to watch it one Friday night, but I just found it a little too complicated to follow and I kept getting the characters mixed up. I did finally 'get it' and once the film was over I enjoyed discussing it with my boyfriend but it is not the sort of film you can watch while having a conversation or trying to make dinner; it requires your full attention.
The film is set in the early 1970s during the bleak Cold War era. After an operation in Budapest goes wrong and Jim Prideaux a secret service agent gets killed, the head of British Intelligence 'Control' resigns. George Smiley who was a spy working under control is also forced out of the Intelligence service.
Percy Alleline becomes the new Chief of the Circus after control leaves and has Bill Haydon as his deputy. They establish their status by delivering important Soviet intelligence material, code named "Witchcraft." Alleline shares Witchcraft material with the Americans and in return obtains valuable American intelligence. After a year of being retired and adjusting to regular life, Smiley is brought out of retirement by Oliver Lacon, the Civil Servant in charge of intelligence. He is asked to investigate an allegation there is a long-term mole in a senior role in the British Intelligence. Smiley starts his investigation and as the plot thickens around him, he considers that the failure of the Hungary operation and the continuing success of Operation Witchcraft corroborate the idea that there is a mole within the service. Through interviewing various people, he starts to piece together bits of the jigsaw and eventually identifies the mole.
The film is dark and drab which adds to mystery and intrigue but again makes the film slightly hard to follow as in parts it just seems a bit too boring. It's full of dusty old files, clapped out caravans and brown suits. I just could not get excited about the film but I appreciate how the director has tried to capture the essence of the British period and stay close to how the book portrays it. There are quite a lot of characters to get to grips with in such a short amount of time and as the story drifts from the Hungary mission to the time with Control to the present time; it is quite hard to get to grips with a time line. At the end of the film it all falls in to place nicely and the hero of the film, Smiley definitely gets his rewards for his hard work despite their being a few ups and downs on the way. Gary Oldman is enchanting as this old spy Smiley, very likeable and diligent, you end up rooting for him the whole way through the film.
The name of the film comes from the codename that Control gives to lead players of the circus, "Tinker" (Alleline), "Tailor" (Haydon), "Soldier" (Bland), "Poorman" (Esterhase) and "Beggarman" (Smiley). I rather like this and when it is explained in the film, it seems to bring the characters together. The plot is slow but complex. Smiley works hard to figure out who the mole is but he never seems to do anything urgently. There are no anxious scenes, no fight scenes but if you miss a bit of the film, it could take you a long time to figure out what is going on.
I think Colin Firth who players Haydon is really good in the film, I like him at the best of time but it was nice to see a good bit of eye candy in the film ,probably the main reason I kept watching in all honesty. I persevered with this film and learnt the characters names, I rooted for Smiley, I thought about who the mole could be and then at the end when the mole was revealed, I expected something bigger. I was so underwhelmed, the door opens and there is the mole. The whole film has been counting down to this moment and it is a bit of a let down.
So overall -
An interesting film but rather too slow and complex for me.
Blu ray extras
The Blu ray costs £17.00 and is available now. As far as Blu rays go, I would not rush to buy it on this medium. It has a grainy old effect that could be found with a VHS video rather than ultra cool Blu ray technology. Obviously this is intentional though. You would have thought that to make up for it, the blue ray should come with some brilliant bonuses but it does not. You do get some interviews with cast and crew including le Carre and you also get some deleted scenes. Not really much to write home about.