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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) (DVD)
Member Name: kevin121
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) (DVD)
Date: 03/11/11, updated on 17/03/13 (134 review reads)
Advantages: Fantastic ensemble casting, the individual performances given by Gary Oldman and Mark Strong.
Disadvantages: At 2 hrs 10 mins it feels overly long.
It isn't bad for long though. Smiley gets pulled out of retirement after word gets out a double agent in the Circus is working for the Russians. Smiley is tasked with secretly finding out who the mole is.
~ The screenplay ~
At just over 2 hours long, the film needs to have a fantastic screenplay to hold a viewers attention and mostly it does. One of the main complaints from filmgoers and critics alike seems to be the pacing. In parts it is so slow moving that my mind kept wandering, but at others I wished it were more comprehensive. A prime example is the unmasking of the traitor.
Perhaps those with a sharper brain than mine would have picked up on the traitor's identity sooner than Smiley, but I didn't and by the time of the denouement, I felt I must have missed a crucial clue somewhere. How he managed to figure out which of the other four it was remained slightly unclear to me, I would have liked to have had more of his train of thought made apparent. The unmasking of the double agent isn't what the film is about though. It is more about the journey than the arrival, more about blokes idling chatting about the new blonde in the typing pool than car chases and explosions, and while the pacing is slow the atmosphere of the film is first class.
~ Cinematography ~
What will keep younger audiences fed on the Bourne and Mission: Impossible films visually engaged during this I don't know. The cinematography is superb in as much as it seems to be a realistic take on the drab browns and beiges and smoky atmospheres of the 70s, but if anyone wants lush tropical island's or fancy hotels to look at a la 007, they would be disappointed. Even the scenes set in Istanbul are cold and still.
Where this lacks the visual excitement of a Cubby Broccoli film though, it makes up for in atmosphere. A woman coming home to find her husband slaughtered in their bathtub is surely going to realise that the killers are still in the house and will be creeping up behind her? Of course not, but when they do come face to face the outcome is surprising. Another nail biting scene involves Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam having to nick some top classified files from the Circus for Smiley. If he gets caught, he is very much on his own.
Both confused and startled...
... by what doesn't happen as much as what does. As the film flips back and forth in time constantly, I found I had trouble keeping up with what was happening in parts.
The film is rated 15 due presumably to several violent scenes. Mainly shootings, they are all the more awful by their range of victims. The opening scene set in Hungary is a killer. Jim Prideaux is the Agent who has been set up and is shot, presumably mortally. Not so as we later learn. The bungled attempt on his life is made all the worse as the camera pans out and we see a nearby breastfeeding mother has been killed by a stray bullet meant for Prideaux.
The woman I have already mentioned who finds a bloodbath in, well her bath, doesn't meet the sticky end that I was expecting then, although further down the line... well, I jumped in surprise.
Also, there are flashbacks to a Christmas party at the Circus, which at first seems exciting (who wouldn't want Father Christmas striding in wearing a Lenin mask?) and then repetitious. Of all these flashbacks there were only a couple that seemed relevant. One is where Smiley recoils at the sight of his wife's unfaithfulness (and is probably the only time we see any real emotion from the man), the other one much later involves Prideaux and one of the five possible traitor's no less. No words are spoken, but it's a gem of a scene and I would recommend you watch closely as it is all the better for how the film ends.
... was the initial reason I wanted to see this film, because what this might lack in other respects it makes up for with a first rate cast.
If John Hurt who was originally mooted as Smiley had indeed taken the role who could have been Control? The late Richard Burton would have made for an obvious but wonderful pairing, but as it is Hurt was perfect for his role, albeit most we see in flashback.
Control has realised there is a double agent in their midst and sends Prideaux to meet a Russian agent who may well want to hop over to our side of the Iron Curtain, and bring with him the name of the traitor. Control gives all five suspects codenames and Prideaux is to send back confirmation by way of only one word.
"Tinker" is the name given to Percy Alleline (Toby Jones). An ambitious Scot who helps ease Control out and is only too happy to step into his shoes. "Tailor" ~ Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), the smooth ladies man. "Soldier" ~ Roy Bland (Cairon Hinds), is dour, a man of few words in this script and one of the least fleshed out characters. Thinking that Sailor sounds too similar to Tailor, the next on the list is Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) as "Poor Man", an East European exile recruited by Control who along with Soldier features less than the other suspects. The fifth suspect being Smiley, but as this is the first of Le Carre's trilogy with the last being called Smiley's People, it's an easy guess to assume the traitor won't be him.
Smiley is the kind of person that seems both unimpressive and undistinguished, only vaguely memorable, but presumably in his industry that is exactly the kind of person they require, not the Fleming creation of swagger, finely cut suits and easy way with the ladies. A British Kurt Wallander, middle ageing and slightly overweight he may not be tired of London but he does seem tired of life.
Aside from Oldman, one of the best performances I think came from Kathy Burke as the underfucked Connie Sachs (her word not mine, but was that in Le Carre's book? I doubt it). Someone who was eased out of the Circus shortly after Smiley and Control, she has very little screen time but plays her character with aplomb. Sachs is also, if I remember correctly one of the few women with a speaking role.
The other person to watch is Mark Short as Prideaux who is outstanding. His character gets more screen time than many of the others and with good reason. He has been shot, interrogated by Soviet intelligence, and sent back to Britain where he is kicked into the long grass by the Circus and expected to disappear. Another of the startling scenes I referred to earlier involves a bird fluttering down a chimney and towards Prideaux. Most people might have caught it and thrown it out of the window but not him. In the blink of an eye he's killed it stone dead, much to the horror of the onlookers. We don't often get a glimpse of what lies beneath his cool demeanour, but when we do it's an eye opener.
~ Worth watching? ~
Older audiences familiar either with Le Carre's book or the television adaptation with Alec Guinness in the 70s may not feel inclined to watch a rehash, especially if they found Guinness was a plausible Smiley, which seems to be the general concensus. Younger audiences who are expecting to see an action film should also stay away for obvious reasons.
I would think that having read the book first would be an advantage though. Early on there are references littered around to Karla, although to find out who or what this is and especially the significance to Smiley, you have to watch for an eternity. The one main disadvantage in having read Le Carre's book first of course is that you will already know who the traitor is, as the film and book are apparently the same in that regard.
Nevertheless, I would recommend watching it. It wasn't popular when I went to see this with a friend, there were probably only a dozen other people there, and it does require a level of concentration I don't or can't often give to a film but I still came away thinking it is a good film.
And for the record, were I to have worked at the Circus, I would never have progressed further than taking notes and making cups of tea for the Boys, and even then I would have probably been fired for forgetting how they all took it.
Summary: A complicated plot, but certainly worth watching.