Our agent across the pond Jarv, brings us the lowdown on the real identity of the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy adaptation. How does it measure up to the book, or for that matter, the Alec Guiness mini-series? Read on to find out….
I’ve thought long and hard about this film. When I first sawit, my original reaction was somewhat toxic. The film had, frankly, sent meinto paroxysms of boredom, and I was begging to leave the cinema. However, inretrospect, this initial reaction was a long way off base, as I am guilty ofmissing nuance, of underestimating subtlety and at the end of the day for notappreciating the obvious stately merits of the film. Alternatively, it’s stilla dull film, but a supremely crafted dull film.
Tinker, Tailor is based on the first of novel of John LeCarré’s Smiley trilogy. The events as unfold here deal with a mole at thehighest level of British Intelligence, “The Circus”, and George Smiley’sattempt to root him out. As the film meanders its way across the screen we’retreated to vignettes of Smiley’s life in flashback, such as the party where hiswife, Anne, was first unfaithful, to the cringeworthy scene with her lover andso forth. All of this adds to the rich tapestry of character to Smiley, eachmoment informs his actions and each flashback reveals more of the depth behindhis stoic façade.
First off, this is a supremely well acted film. Oldmanachieved the impossible by turning in a performance comparable to the greatAlec Guinness’ seminal turn, and John Hurt is supreme as the craggy-facedbile-spitting Control. Toby Jones as the duplicitous Alleline and Mark Strongas a spy cut loose are also on fine form, but it is two of the younger actors,Tom Hardy and the brilliantly monikered Benedict Cumberbatch that put in thebest support to Oldman. The only actor that isn’t up to par is Colin Firth, butto be fair he’s utterly miscast in the first place.
Given that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is about espionage, andfeatures award-worthy performances, it sounds strange that I’m not screaming itfrom the rooftops. However, there are several serious problems here. The firstis that this isn’t espionage a la Ian Fleming. It is espionage from the pen ofLe Carré. The original novel, indeed the whole trilogy, was essentially a longterm game of chess. Smiley is an old man, he’s been forcibly retired from theservice, and this is not an action film. Rather this is espionage at its mostcerebral; a cold, emotionless battle of wits with the enemy, where analysistrumps action and paperwork is king. What we have here is cinematic chess, andnot just that, but chess played out between emotionally crippled individuals. Thereare two moments that stand against this. The first is Cumberbatch after Smileytells him that he must break any ties he has, and the second is the actionfeaturing Strong at the school- spotting (arguably grooming) a young boy withespionage potential. Unfortunately Smiley is at the centre of the film, and hisemotions are locked up, chained down and unlikely to see parole any time soon.However, what more can be expected of a film where the mole’s reason for histreachery is purely cerebral: it’s an aesthetic judgement in that the West istoo damned ugly now.
This, incidentally, is not an accusation you can level atthe film. The depth of texture, the dedication to historical accuracy and thesheer sumptuousness of the cinematography make Tinker Tailor a fabulously richfilm. Unfortunately, the glacial pace of the movie means that eventually Ibegan to tire of staring endlessly at a canvas of 1960’s beige and brownswaiting like Godot’s flunky for something to happen.
There is plenty to admire here, the historical accuracy, theperformance by Oldman, the deliberately glacial place the film moves at, andthe intelligence on display. Nevertheless, as much as there is to admire, thereisn’t anything to love. It’s too tedious, and as I knew the identity of themole going in, completely inert. This is, once again, a film that I want tolike rather more than I do; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film that I’llappreciate them having a stab at, even if it’s one that I’ll never really warmto.
At the end of the day, I’m not a fan. I can see thiscleaning up at award time, and I can see it being garlanded with more laurelsthan almost any other film this year. It’s exactly the sort of worthy piece ofcinema that us Brits love to put out, and on top of that, it’s a period dramato boot. There isn’t a critic in the country that hasn’t gone weak at the kneesfor this film, but I’m going to stand alone here: watching Oldman checkingpaperwork is not interesting to me no matter how well filmed, and a film as cold asthis one is never going to find its way into my heart. I think I’ll stick to eitherthe novel or the miniseries.