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Tuesday, January 10, 2012



"She told me she had a secret, the mother of all secrets..."
Ricki Tarr

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a 2011 dramatic film directed by Tomas Alfredson that serves as an adaptation of John le Carré's 1974 novel of the same name. Set in 1973 in the midst of the Cold War, it comes to the attention of the higher-ups in British Intelligence that there is a mole amongst those around them. After being forced into retirement, former agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is asked by his government to come back to Intelligence in order to clear up the matter. He starts by looking through the former head of Intelligence's - aptly referred to as Control (John Hurt) - apartment and learns that he had created a list of five potential suspects: the four men currently running British Intelligence as well as Smiley himself. With the help of a younger agent named Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), Smiley digs deeper and deeper as he tries to weed out the mastermind behind their intelligence woes. Just as things seem to be a little out of place, some new information from a somewhat disgraced agent named Rikki Tarr (Tom Hardy) once again helps Smiley's chase.

Now I know that the above synopsis probably seems a little bit confusing, but with as much information as is given during the film, I'd say I've done at least a halfway decent job of conveying the basic plot outline. I have not read the source novel, but from everything I've heard, it packs quite a bit of information and spy-related terminology into its 432-page duration, so to adapt such an exquisitely-written piece into feature film format must have been quite the endeavor. This is also the second time this novel has been adapted into any type of motion picture - the first was a seven-part television series in 1979 - and even that had difficulty keeping the novel's every last detail. So one can imagine that there would be some concern as to whether a two-hour venture into the story could possibly relay the novel's magnitude. In his review for the Daily Mirror, David Edwards wrote the following:
The big question - and one Le Carré himself asked when the film was announced - is whether such a hefty novel can fit comfortably into a feature-length production. In answering this, the writers have pared things back, meaning it's far pacier than the seven-part TV show. Unfortunately, the plot is every bit as bewildering with an overload of spy-speak, a few too many characters to keep track of and a final act that ends with a whimper, rather than a bang.
While there are some points with which I agree, I'm not entirely on board with Edwards's evaluation of the film's screenplay. On the one hand, I do think that there is just a little too much going on to fit into a two-hour film; I could see this having been expanded another thirty to forty-five minutes, and it might have worked a little more fluidly and made a little more sense along the way. As it stands, the film just starts, and it's almost as though the film requires the viewer to understand its beginnings beforehand. We as the audience are just thrown so much, and while it's all understandable when you sit back and think about it, it's just a tad bit overwhelming. If you're not able to sit back and pause the film from time to time to collect your thoughts, you may get left behind.

That being said, I thought the story and the twists worked excessively well. Once I was able to lock down on the storyline, I found a way to follow it and worked rather hard to keep up with it all, and I do have to say that it proved to be both clever and fulfilling. The consistent flow of facts and information was a tad bit much, but in the end, it all came together and painted a very incredible picture of the events that had led to the film's climax. While it's not the best screenplay I've ever seen, it proves to be an effective one, and for that, the screenwriters should be applauded.

Fortunately, the acting is strong enough throughout the film that it easily counterweights the issues with the aforementioned screenplay. Oldman is fantastic as our leading man, bringing a quiet but strong performance to the screen, but to be fair, I'm not sure anyone expected anything less from him. Some of our supporting actors also give great performances. Be on the lookout for Toby Jones and Colin Firth, both of whom play more antagonistic characters but play the parts well. Hardy is fantastic once again, slowly but surely making a statement as to his overall acting ability. John Hurt was also quite good in his limited appearance. I'd also like to make mention of Cumberbatch and the always great Mark Strong, who both turn in grand performances. Ultimately, this is a fantastic ensemble cast all around.

Despite this, at the end of the day, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy falls a little bit short of its lofty expectations. I was incredibly excited to see this film from the moment I first saw the trailer, and when it managed to garner incredibly favorable critical reviews, my eagerness only grew. Sadly, it was just a little too puzzling from time to time, and ultimately, it couldn't find a way to hook me like so many other dramatic thrillers have in the past. It seems as though a fan of the novel would be best-prepared for a film like this, but seeing as I was not familiar with it at all, I had to go into the film a little bit blind. As a result, I had to fight to stay with the story, and that's not always the best way to experience a film.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
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