TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

7 out of 10

Release date: 16th September 2011

Director:  Tomas Alfredsson: (The Snowman (2016) / Let The Right One In)

Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Dencik,  Simon McBurney, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Stephen Graham, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Philip Martin Brown, Christian McKay with Kathy Burke and John Hurt

Writer: Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan

Trailer: TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

images-4I’m not familiar with the book or the TV adaptation of John LeCarre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so I went in cold, oblivious to them to see if this film version could live up to expectations.  What I can tell you is this is a superior piece of story telling let down by a needlessly convoluted storyline when the plot through-line is easy to follow.  Resolutions are apparent to the audience before the characters cotton on, a few times. Also, I didn’t like the montage ending to Bobby Darin’s song Beyond The Sea . A) I hate that song and B) it was out of step with the tone and all of the other music used in the film up to then.  Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Onto the plot.

There is a mole at the very top of the food chain at MI5 and whats more he’s been there for years.  It’s down to veteran semi-retired spy George Smiley (GARY OLDMAN – HANNIBAL) to uncover his identity.  Just who has been trading secrets with the Russians? That’s the plot in a nutshell. Spies speak of Smiley’s opposite number in Russia as if he is a ghost, a spy comes in from the cold (TOM HARDY – STAR TREK: NEMESIS) with crucial information about the mole and some of the best actors the UK has ever spawned pad the London streets in beige rain jackets to some excellently cool jazz music.

On the whole Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is really engaging. The cast is flawless as you’d expect by rolling an eye down the list.  Gary Oldman is the best he’s been in twenty years in a role where he gets to actually live in.  After a long line of franchises, Id forgotten that he was capable of brilliance. Colin Firth (BRIDGET JONES) continues his upward swing of interesting character actors. He’s fast turning into one of my favourite actors after years of slumming it in cod Mr Darcy rip off roles in rom-coms. Elsewhere in the cast John Hurt (CONTACT) steals early scenes as Number One.  Naturally secretive and weaselly and wise like no one else can quite do.  It’s nice to see Kathy Burke (KEVIN AND PERRY GO LARGE!) back on the big screen as female spy. It is all impeccably directed and looks great.  Director Tomas Alfredsson is famous for his awesome vampire movie Let The Right One In.  I look forward to seeing what he’s got lined up.

7 out 10 – An actors’ film. It’s an interesting but over complicated spy jaunt to contrast to the high jinks of James Bond and the Bourne series. Great acting. What a cast!

BAD REVIEW BELOW by Matt (Spy Camera) Usher

WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT PERSON IN BEFORE?

  • Gary Oldman: Man Down, Flying Horse (dir), Monster Butler, Child 44, The Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Robocop (2014), Paranoia (2013), The Dark Knight Rises, Lawless, Harry Potter- Parts 3-8,    Kung Fu Panda 2 (voice), Red Riding Hood (2011), The Book Of Eli, Planet 51 (voice), The Unborn, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Hannibal, The Contender, Lost In Space, Airforce One, The Fifth Element, Basquiat, The Scarlet Letter (1995),  Murder In The First, Immortal Beloved, Leon, Romeo Is Bleeding, True Romance, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), JFK, Henry & June, State Of Grace, Rosencrantz & Guilderstern Are Dead, Chattahoochee, We Think The World Of You, Criminal Law, Prick Up Your Ears, Sid & Nancy, Mean Time
  • Colin Firth: Bridget Jones Baby, Genius, Kingsman – The Secret Service, Magic In The Moonlight, Before I Go To Sleep, The Devil’s Knot,  The Railway Man, Gambit (2012), The King’s Speech, St Trinians 2, A Single Man, Dorian Gray, Easy Virtue, Genova, Mamma Mia!, The Accidental Husband, St Trinians, And When Did You Last See Your Father, The Last Legion, Nanny McPhee, Where The Heart Lies, Bridget Jones 2, Trauma (2004), Love Actually, The Girl With The Pearl Earring, Hope Springs, The Importance Of Being Ernest (2002), Bridget Jones, Relative Values, Shakespeare In Love, A Thousand Acres, Fever Pitch, The English Patient, Pride & Prejudice (TV), Circle Of Friends, The Hour Of The Pig, Valmont, Apartment Zero, A Month In The Country, Another Country
  • Tom Hardy: London Road, Legend (2015), Child 44, Mad Max 4, Locke, The Dark Knight Rises, Lawless, This Means War, Warrior (2011), Deserter, Inception, Bronson, Sucker Punch (2008), Rock N’ Rolla, Flood, Scenes Of a Sexual Nature, Marie Antoinette, Layer Cake, Star Trek- Nemesis, Black Hawk Down
  • Mark Strong: 6 Days, Grimsby, Kingsman – The Secret Service, The Imitation Game, Before I Go To Sleep, Blood (2013)Welcome To The Punch, Zero Two Dark, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Kick Ass, The Guard, John Carter, Black Gold,  The Eagle, Robin Hood (2010), The Green Lantern,  The Way Back, Sherlock Holmes (2009), Rock-N-Rolla, Body Of Lies, Young Victoria, Flashbacks Of a Fool, Sunshine (2007), Stardust, Scenes Of a Sexual Nature, Revolver, Syriana, The Long Firm (TV), Heartlands, The Martins, Elephant Juice, Fever Pitch, Hotel (2001), Our Friends In The North (TV), Captives
  • Toby Jones: Anthropoid, Alice In Wonderland 2 (voice), Dad’s Army, Serena, Hunger Games – Mockingjay 2, Marvellous, By The Gun, Muppets Most Wanted, Captain American 2, Berberian Sound Studio, Snow White & The Huntsman, The Hunger Games, Red Lights, Tintin (voice), My Week With Marilyn, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows- part 1 (voice), Captain America, Your Highness, The Rite, Sex Drugs and Rock N’ Roll, St Trinians 2, Nightwatching, Creation, W., Frost / Nixon, City Of Ember, St Trinians, The Mist, The Painted Veil, Infamous, Mrs Henderson Presents, Finding Neverland, Ladies In Lavender, Harry Potter & The Chambers Of Secrets, Simon Magus
  • Ciaran Hinds: Hitman – Agent 47 (2015), The Sea, Closed Circuit, Game Of Thrones (TV), John Carter, Ghost Rider 2, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows- part 2, The Woman In Black,  The Rite, The Debt, Race To Witch Mountain (2009), Stop-Loss, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, In Bruges, There Will Be Blood, Margot At The Wedding, Hallam Foe, Rome (TV), Miami Vice, Munich, The Phantom Of The Opera, Calendar Girls, Tomb Raider 2, Veronica Guerin, Road To Perdition, The Sum Of All Fears, The Lost Son, Titanic Town, Oscar and Lucinda, Some Mother’s Son, Mary Reilly, Persuasion, Circle Of Friends, The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover
  • Benedict Cumberbatch: Jungle Book – Origins (voice) (2015), Dr Strange, Black Mass, Sherlock (TV), The Hobbit – The Battle of the Five Armies (voice), The Imitation Game, Osage- August County, 12 Years a Slave, The Hobbit – The Desolation Of Smaug (voice),The Fifth Estate, Star Trek 2, The Hobbit- An Unexpected Journey (voice), Sherlock Holmes (TV), Wreckers, War Horse, Third Star, Four Lions, Atonement, The Other Boleyn Girl, Starter For Ten
  • David Dencik: Kidnapping Freddy Heineken, Serena, The Homesman, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)
  • Stephen Graham: Pirates of the Caribbean 5, Hyena, Get Santa, Blood (2013), Best Laid Plans (2012), Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Texas Killing Fields, This Is England 88,  This Is England 86, The Season Of The Witch, London Boulevard, Public Enemies, This Is England, The Damned Utd, Inkheart, The Crew, Doghouse, Awaydays, Goal, Snatch, Coronation Street (TV), Downtime
  • Kathy Burke: Pan, Flushed Away (voice), Anita & Me, Once Upon a Time In The Midlands, The Martins, Kevin & Perry Go Large, Love Honour & Obey, Elizabeth I, Dancing At Lughnasa, This Year’s Love, Nil By Mouth, Sid & Nancy, The Harry Enfield Show (TV)
  • Simon McBurney: Mission Impossible 5, The Theory of Everything, Magic In The Moonlight, Jane Eyre (2011), Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows – Part 1, The Golden Compass, The Last King Of Scotland, Body of Lies, The Duchess, The Manchurian Candidate (2006), Kafka,
  • Roger Lloyd-Pack: Made In Dagenham, Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire, Hollow Reed,  The Vicar Of Dibley (TV),The Young Poisoners’ Handbook, UFO (1993), The Trial (1993), The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover, Only Fools and Horses (TV)
  • Philip Martin Brown: Strawberry Fields, Waterloo Road (TV), The Bill (TV), Casualty (TV)
  • Christian McKay: Draw On Sweet Night, The Theory of Everything, Northern Soul, Rush (2013), Mr Nice, Me and Orson Welles
  • John Hurt: Tarzan (2016), Snowpiercer, Hercules (2014), Only Lovers Left Alive, Doctor Who – Day Of The Doctor, Dr Who (TV), Merlin (TV) (voice), Immortals (2011), Brighton Rock (2011),  Harry Potter 1,7 & 8, Melancholia, New York I Love You, The Limits Of Control, 44 inch Chest, V For Vendetta, Hellboy 1 & 2, Outlander, Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, Perfume, The Oxford Murders, The Skeleton Key, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,  The Proposition, Lost Souls, Contact, Night Train, You’re Dead, All The Little Animals, Love and Death On Long Island, WIld Bill (1995), Dead Man, Rob Roy, Second Best, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, Monolith, King Ralph, The Field, Scandal, White Mischief, Heaven’s Gate, The Elephant Man, 1984, Watership Down (voice), Midnight Express, Alien, The Naked Civil Servant, 10 Rillington Place, Little Malcolm
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One thought on “TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

  1. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY – Review by Rat (at the top of the circus) Usher

    I cannot believe how upset I am over how bad this is. I’m going to go away for a little while and I’ll come back when there is less bile to spill over this horrendous disappointment.

    A week has passed. Now, there are worse things in the world than a disappointing film, but you don’t need to know about that, so let’s rip into this over-rated catastrophe.

    It’s the 1970s and the Cold War is at its most twisty, and there’s a mole at the top of the British spy service! Only one man (George Smiley) can uncover the traitor, but he’s been taken off the case before there was even a case. But he works it out anyway. That’s basically the plot of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which some people will tell you is insanely complicated, convoluted, intricate and clever. It’s quite straightforward really, but it’s a good story and well worth telling more than once.

    Before continuing, I must declare an interest. I watched the BBC’s 1979 TV version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy some years ago and I am happy to agree with anyone who believes it to be amongst the best TV dramas ever made. And I find it difficult to distinguish between Alec Guinness and God. And I have always known the identity of the traitor. However, I was looking forward to this film version, what with its good reviews and top-notch cast and its reassuringly grey-brown 1970s patina. No Jack Bauer carrying-on here. A film where character and plot are indivisible.

    But someone has blundered. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY listlessly lumbers along like a benign dinosaur, devoid of something vital: character. Both the TV and film versions feature many of Equity’s top names, but on TV the audience had an extra five hours in their company. The viewer got to know the characters (insofar as it’s possible to get to know sneaky spies). In the film we have an impressive list of top thespians, but their contributions are so restricted that they amount to little more than a roll-call of sub-Agatha Christie suspects without the eccentricities. It’s not as if the film is so action-packed that there’s no room for character (in fact there is almost no action, which is a good thing). And the plot isn’t overly complicated, so what was the film doing? Mostly looking at old cars and spy-telegraph-machine-things. The film wallows in seventies-ness. Except what it actually does is try to make that decade look like the fifties. But surely the point of the story is that it is / was contemporary – this just batters you over the head with its period obsessiveness. It being the 1970s, feminism is rampant and makes itself felt in the movie, mostly through its conspicuous absence. ‘The future is female’ proclaims a prominent piece of graffiti towards the end of the film moments before the traitor is unmasked. Is it a reference to Thatcher publicly unmasking Blunt? Helen Mirren says this film should’ve had more female spies. I cannot comment (I’m not a 1970s spy), but I’d take John Le Carré’s word as being authentic (what with him being a spy and everything). (Mind you, Dame Helen is almost Russian so maybe she’s a spy too?) And what is she complaining about? There are loads of women in this. There’s Kathy Burke failing to replace Beryl Reid in the faux-gentility stakes as the only spy who works out what’s going on but who gets thrown out by the old-boys’-network trying to cover stuff up. And there’s a Russian who gets beaten up, tortured and murdered. And Mrs Smiley appears (in the background for about 5 seconds and played by a promoted extra). (So what if the TV version drafted in Sian Phillips for one of TV-land’s best cameos?) And right at the start as super-spy Mark Strong runs away from a sniping waiter, a woman gets killed. For once in a British film the dead woman is not pregnant! We know this as her baby is in her arms. This is a puzzling sequence which pretty much buried the film for me almost before it had begun. In the earlier version Strong’s character (played by Ian Bannen) is running through a forest following a car chase. So why the carnage in the shopping arcade? Did the director want to avoid a car chase for fear of damaging a nice 1970s-style car? When did they stop putting car chases into spy films? Why invent a dead woman?

    As for the men they just sit around doing lots of paperwork whilst getting drunk and being clubbable. But most importantly why is Gary Oldman so bad? I suppose the trick with these covert operatives is that they have to keep their faces blank so you never know what they’re thinking. With Alec Guinness, the previous Smiley, you always knew his little grey cells were whirring away, but you never knew what he was thinking. Oldman just has the blankness of Homer Simpson. Both approaches are valid I suppose, but I know which is more dramatic. To be fair though, of the two, it is easier to believe that Oldman’s Smiley could be the traitor. The rest of the cast must have either (a) signed on for the money, or (b) not realised that most of their work would be left in the editing suite. John Hurt and Colin Firth are as good as they ever are but have nothing to work with (so they fall back on being irascible / charming / shifty). Toby Jones gets to be oily and Tom Hardy looks like he’s ‘acting’ (lots of tics and business). Only Benedict Cumberbatch emerges with much credit as an agent who doesn’t know what he should have known and now knows that he needs to know more but doesn’t know how to find it out. I think.

    When the traitor is revealed we just shrug our shoulders and think ‘oh it was him then, fancy’ and it comes as neither surprise nor shock, partly because we’ve spent so little time with the suspects. And frankly, anyone looking at the cast list could have worked it out. The traitor’s motives are all but ignored, and his fate is perfunctory.

    The film closes with a cataclysmic misjudgement. For reasons best known to the director, inflicts Beyond the Sea (by Bobby Darin as covered by Julio Iglesias) on the innocent viewer. What have we done to deserve this? It’s clearly meant to be some sort of ironic comment on something or other, but I couldn’t see anything in the closing montage to warrant it. Maybe it’s Smiley’s favourite song?

    This really is a case of ‘they don’t make them like they used to’. The film is just a bad cover version; there is nothing uniquely cinematic about it and though it retells the story faithfully enough, the losses more than outweigh the gains. In fact, I can’t think of any gains (apart from it being shorter). But the TV version was better written, better acted, better paced, clearer, more complex, was contemporary and (as far as I recall) enjoyed a complete absence of Julio Iglesias at climactic moments.

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