Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy * * * *

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Director: Tomas Alfredson.
Screenplay: Peter Straughan, Bridget O’Connor.
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Stephen Graham, Konstantin Khabensky, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Simon McBurney, Kathy Burke.

After the success of his Swedish horror film “Let the Right One In“, director Tomas Alfredson tackles the novel of John le Carre which first aired as a British TV miniseries in 1979 starring Alec Guinness. It’s a tough project to take on, when all eyes are on you but Alfredson’s abilities are perfectly suited to the material.

After a botched mission, the head of MI6, British Intelligence spymaster, known as Control (John Hurt) is sacked from the agency along with his number-one man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman). Soon after their sacking, information is revealed that a Soviet mole has infiltrated the Secret service and worked his way up to the highest echelon. Smiley is then approached to take on a new assignment: spy on the spies and find out who the mole could be.

The first thing to grab your attention about this film is its style. It captures London in the 1970’s to the minutest detail and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema deserves every credit for his striking work here. To compliment the lush imagery is a perfectly pitched score by Alberto Iglesias and within minutes the game, that is espionage, is set. Alfredson is a director that obviously likes to work at a certain pace. That pace may be excruciatingly slow for some people but it can also be highly effective. In this case, it’s the latter. This film ruminates long and hard on it’s characters and their subtleties. However, it is so convoluted and dialogue driven that the slightest lapse in concentration will leave the film incomprehensible. I don’t profess to have understood it entirely but I kept up to speed enough to be left satisfied with the outcome. My review of this may be posted a little early though, as this is a film that definitely requires at least two sittings. For that reason, I have settled on my current rating but that will only ever get higher if I ever get around to that second viewing. A couple of criticisms I had was a lack of any real action. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting Jason Bourne to make a appearance but it threatened a few exciting set-pieces and then didn’t deliver. The other was the identity of the double-agent; it became clear earlier than it should have which lessened the impact of the final revelation. These are small gripes though as the suspense and intrigue were engrossing and more than competently handled by the director and his eclectic cast of quality British actors – I happen to be an admirer of every one of them. It’s Oldman though, in the lead role, that is the real standout. He’s very reserved and it’s a performance that may disappoint fans of his intense roles like Drexl from “True Romance” or Stansfield from “Leon” but he holds a presence that hints of something darker to his character. At first, it was a performance that I didn’t really see what all the fuss – and Oscar nomination – was about. That was, until the film draws to close and you realise that Oldman has had you captivated for over two hours. The story itself is difficult to speak of as I’d be entering into spoiler territory, not to mention my review would be in danger of becoming very long-winded. Rest assured though, this is a thoroughly involving and accomplished mystery.

An enthralling and masterfully constructed spy thriller that is handled with such a deftness of skill that it doesn’t allow you to switch off for a second.

Mark Walker

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23 Responses to “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy * * * *”

  1. I had a hard time to wrap my head around this. I think I too would need a second viewing. At least. I needed to talk about it afterwards to figure out what I just had seen. This said: I liked it a lot too. The mood and the setting and the assembly of good actors is splendid.

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    • Yeah, I’ve been trying to get my head around all the details but it’s just too complex to do so. A second viewing is a definite. The ensemble were indeed splendid.

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  2. Glad you liked the film. I loved it. It was almost like an acting class taught by some of the best in the business. Phenomenal cast.

    Great review.

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  3. Still need to see this one. It seems like it’s kind of a love/hate film that confuses everyone on the first watch

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    • It definitely does confuse. There’s no doubt about that. I can see why some might dislike it because of that. If you lose your concentration it’ll leave you behind. I managed to keep up though and loved it.

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  4. Great movie. Loved it. I love the way it gives the audience credit for being able to follow along. 😀 The dont dumb anything down because theyre afraid people will fall by the wayside.

    Complex, gripping, nuanced. Excellent.

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    • Absolutely! I wish more films would cater for intelligent audiences. I’m also glad there seems to be a majority of positive opinions on this. Maybe we’ll actually get more of this type of material.

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  5. MrMcBam Says:

    This film didn’t do much for upon my initial viewing. I was tired, so I had trouble following most of the plot. A few months later, I grab the Blu-ray, watch it, and fall in love with it. I watched it a few days later just to make sure I get everything.

    I applaud its narrative structure. You don’t see films like this anymore; ones that expect the audience to put the pieces together.

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    • I couldn’t agree more. I actually put off watching this for a while until I knew I was ready to give it my full attention. I’m eager to see it again, more relaxed and able to see more of the angles.

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  6. todayiwatchedamovie Says:

    Ah, the movie whose score gets the most complaints on my blog. Reviews like yours are making me seriously consider a do-over. Very little action, Gary Oldman, and a mystery would normally be key ingredients in Amazing Movie Pie for me. I’m not sure why I couldn’t get into it.

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    • Your opinion is still as valid as any other man. I can definitely see why people wouldn’t like this. It’s not for everyone. If you’re not in the right frame of mind then it could, quite frankly, be a complete load of shit. I happened to be in the right frame of mind for it.

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  7. Great review, man! I agree that it deserves at least two sittings. It is very hard to follow but the look and the score and the top-notch cast are enough to win you over.

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    • Cheers Fernando. Yeah, within minutes of it starting, I was drawn in by the look and the score. It really sets the whole film up. Two sittings is essential. I’ve been trying to run it through my head but still can’t piece everything together.

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  8. I’ve seen the odd reviewer bash this film for lacking thrills and being too complicated but, as I’ve told them, that is completely unfair. I love the maze-like plot because this sort of world should be complicated – I think the best thing about this film is the atmosphere Alfredson manages to create. He also constructs each frame with the attention to detail most often associated with oil painters and technical drawers. Excellent review!

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  9. Excellent review, I’ve been meaning to watch this for ages. I must say the cast assembled is certainly a major draw.

    Like

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