Most recent talks Film talks A-Z Before viewing talks Deep talks Sign up: email updates About the film talks Stay up on new talks Join the community
What's this site about? Inside out: Heart Inside out: Beauty Inside out: Love Thoughtful: a film's heart Thoughtful: film content Thoughtful: films to watch Who's behind this?
Register and login General PttH updates Film review sites Film site quick views Quotes The PttH seminar

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy comes off with an intriguing mix of the slow and unemotional pace of the main character, Smiley, who is driving the action, countered by an emotionally charged, rapid-paced plot, while having little rapid or suspenseful onscreen action. Multiple subplots, as well as the film itself, are built around the major theme of trust and loyalty, which give plenty of cause for strong emotion, so Smiley’s impassiveness is a particularly curious element of the film. Beyond all that, it’s a strong, complex, and entertaining spy tale.

It’s 1973: in the thick of the Cold War. Six men form the top level of British intelligence (the Circus): Control (the chief), Alleline (Tinker), Haydon (Tailor), Bland (Soldier), Esterhase, and Smiley (presumably, Spy). U.S. intelligence has no trust, thinking British intelligence to be a “leaky ship.” Smiley is forced into retirement, as is Control, who soon dies (not mysteriously). As suspicions increase that there is a mole “right at the top of” the Circus, the Minister of Finance, wanting to restore British intelligence’s credibility, asks Smiley to find the mole. Smiley takes on the job, entering into the tangled space of investigating his former colleagues and a web of cross-border relationships. Running time: 127 min.

First and foremost, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a fine spy story that holds your attention and draws you in to untangling its web (or trying to, at least) — so long as you can put in the energy to try to keep up with its fast and not-always-directly-connected development. But always riding at or just below the surface is an interwoven web of loyalties and disloyalties (real and maybe not real) and questions thereof. What reasons might justify disloyalty? What makes a trust blind, such that we might fail to see disloyalty? Emotionally, how do we react to disloyalty, and does our reaction prevent us from seeing other major issues clearly? These types of questions are so intricately intertwined in the film that they do not in any way distract from — or indeed even force themselves into — the film’s story. So, the film works both as a Friday fun film and as a more deep and substantive exploration.

The filmcraft is very good; in particular, the acting is excellent by all. Gary Oldman’s impassive Smiley is a deceptively difficult role to play, and he shows mastery of subtlety. Director Tomas Alfredson’s biggest challenge is to fit the film’s intricate twists into only two hours, and this may explain a bit of choppiness. On the other hand, I could see what may come off as choppiness as instead being an intentional choice that combines just-enough disclosure with a choice to increase the film’s pace. Another way that Alfredson compresses the film is by having a conversation in current-time serve as a voice-over for action in past-time, which inserts distance between viewer and the story’s emotion. It would be interesting to compare the film on these points to its predecessor, the 1979 British TV mini-series (which I have not as yet done). Nonetheless, all told, these weaknesses in no way overshadow Tinker Tailor’s strengths in story, direction, editing, cinematography, score, and acting.

If you’re energetic and alert, and especially if you have a penchant for intelligent spy films, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is definitely worth the time. Did I say you need be sure you’re ready to pay close attention? Oh, yeah, sorry: I did, but it’s worth emphasizing. At least one reviewer got lost, but that needn’t happen to you. If you are very alert.

The film has violence commensurate with a spy film; on a couple of occasions it gets somewhat gory, depicting a level of ruthlessness. Multiple gunshot and other murderous wounds are directly shown, some with notable blood, as is one onscreen killing. One quite direct sexual statement seems tossed in, though it does bring out the character’s bottom-line coarseness. One sexual encounter, with some nudity, is shown from a distance; another is shown up-close but with no nudity. Some punching, one time it’s man-hitting-woman. Some strong language.

  • Director: Tomas Alfredson
  • Screenplay: Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan based on novel by John le CarrĂ©
  • Leads: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, David Dencik, CiarĂ¡n Hinds, Colin Firth
  • Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema
  • Music: Alberto Iglesias

Tags: ,

NOTE: Although Before viewing talks don't have spoilers, comments below MAY have spoilers
(spoilers are allowed in comments when a Before viewing talk does not have a corresponding After viewing talk for discussing the film)

Post a Comment

NOTE: It is okay to have spoilers in comments on Quick talks, but please do warn folks with "** SPOILERS **" or some such.

You must be registered (it's easy) and logged in to post a comment. Why?