Synopsis: Gary Oldman leads a stunning all-star cast in this masterful adaptation of John le Carré’s bestselling novel that redefined the spy thriller. At the height of the Cold War, a precarious operation goes deadly wrong, and the head of British Intelligence wonders if a double agent is leaking vital secrets. Brought out of retirement to expose the potential mole, master spy George Smiley (Oldman) is the only one who can be trusted to expose one of their own.Or can he? As the emotional and physical tolls mount on the high-ranking suspects, Smiley will be forced into the ultimate international spy game where everyone’s motives are in question. Filled with stunning performances by Academy Award® winner Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciarán Hinds, it’s the powerful and deeply resonant spy tale that Ebert Presents at the Movies hails as “hands down the best new thriller this year.”
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: I had no intention of watching this film.
But, after reading so many great things following its extremely successful release in the UK, I had no choice but to reconsider my position. Everyone was applauding it – there was apparently no dissenting opinion.
Still, I wanted to see the Alec Guinness version first. Not only do I prefer Guinness to Oldman, but I assumed that a mini-series would translate the original material, John LeCarré’s novel, more accurately.
Life throws you curveballs sometimes, though: my partner had rented the film a couple of days prior and didn’t have the chance to watch it. Zoiks! It was due that night, so I was compelled to see it well before my time.
‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ was a superbly suspenseful film. The intrigue was excellent, but the political machinations are such that one has to be extremely alert the whole way through in order to keep track of what going on. I watched it with the subtitles on for two reasons: 1) because of the likelihood of accents I could not decipher (which weren’t too bad, in truth), and 2) because I knew that reading the dialogue would help me stay on course. Even then, we had to pause the movie a couple of times to double-check.
‘TTSS’ is the story of George Smiley, who left the Secret Service a few years ago but has now been called upon to find a mole his old outfit Service following the death of his former chief, Control. In so doing, he finds himself trying to put the many pieces of this big jumbled puzzle together – in the hope of eventually weeding out the double agent.
Smiley is incarnated here by Gary Oldman, in what is a splendid performance. While he mostly plays Smiley in a subdued way, he imbues him with a mastery that few others could match. He pretty much lost himself in the role: I often had to remind myself that it was Oldman, because he appeared so weathered and had shed his usual cool factor for the part. Oldman made of Smiley an enigma, which worked well for the picture.
The whole cast was terrific, really. I was surprised to find Colin Firth in ‘TTSS’, because I hadn’t checked out the cast beforehand, but he was as perfect as he always is. It’s funny how I don’t remember him having many lines in the movie, and yet he seemed omnipresent to me. Another notable actor in this film was John Hurt, who is looking sicklier than ever, but who did a terrific job of playing Control. I’ve never found Hurt healthy-looking (‘1984’ doesn’t help, mind you… ), so I wonder if his appearance was designed for the role or if he’s just not doing well. Either way, he killed it.
The film benefitted tremendously from all the on-location filming – it gave the picture the perfect vibe, just the right grittiness. The cinematography and set-dressing is superb – one is easily convinced that we’re seeing a drab ’70s Britain (actually, it could be another era – but the country is unmistakable). The technology the characters were using was the biggest giveaway for the setting – although I suspect that fashions probably were as well (I found that they all dressed conservatively and, thus, it was hard for me to distinguish their attire from more modern conservative wear).
My only beef with ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ is a nagging uncertainty about how early on we’re supposed to know the identity of the mole. The thing is that I’m not sure if we’re meant to know early on and then are supposed to watch Smiley pick it all apart before our eyes, or if we’re not supposed to know and Smiley is supposed to guide us to the solution. The intention of the filmmakers is somewhat unclear to me – unfortunately, seeing as this changes not only the way one watches the film, but how one gauges it in retrospect.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
Either way, this version ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ was a great brain teaser. Keeping up was challenging at times, but that’s the joys of home video: you can put subtitles on and stop whenever you’re losing your way to find it again. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes to think while they’re being entertained. ‘TTSS’ may not be the antithesis of rubbish like ‘Transformers’, but it’s a very good antidote indeed.
I’m looking forward to seeing the Alec Guinness version and its follow-up, ‘Smiley’s People’, more than ever. While I meant to see that mini-series first, I was only mildly enthusiastic about it before this; I’m much more intrigued by it now. I just hope that the stories aren’t exactly alike, because the whole mystery would be spoiled well in advance.
I’m also curious to see if the gay undertones are as strong in the ’70s version as they were in this one: was it in the original book and excised in the ’70s, or was it invented for and injected in the modern version? If it was in the original book and miniseries, seems to me that it would have been a very progressive and bold thing to do. Anyway, we soon shall see…