Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy excels in the acting category, and more specifically an excellent performance from Gary Oldman, but the story doesn’t hold as much water as I’d hoped. Sure, some of the storytelling was well done but there’s so much going on and the jump cut from past to present can be tough to keep up with if you’re not fully engrossed. Still, this is a good movie worth checking out at least once.
Genre(s): Suspense, Drama
Universal | R – 128 min. – $29.98 | March 20, 2012
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Writer(s): John le Carre (novel); Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan (screenplay)
Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong
Theatrical Release Date: December 9, 2011 (limited), January 6, 2012 (wider)
Features: Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Featurette
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital S 5.1)
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
THE MOVIE – 3.5/5
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is based the hit book of the same name and was also put on the small screen as a Swedish mini-series starring Alec Guinness and now marks its debut as a feature film starring Gary Oldman in Guinness’ role as George Smiley. Having not seen the mini-series nor read the novel, I cannot make any judgments on how they compare, but based on this two-hour movie, this is not a movie for everybody as it does take plenty of patience to wade through some confusing plotlines and characters.
The film takes place in the heat of the 1970s Cold War and opens on a man known only as Control (JOHN HURT), the head of an organization known as “Circus” (a.k.a. MI6). He’s enlisted spy Jim Prideaux (MARK STRONG) to uncover a mole he’s certain has infiltrated the Circus. Upon meeting a contact in Hungary but is ambushed and is shot in the back as he tries to flee. Due to the blown operation, Control, along with right hand man George Smiley (GARY OLDMAN), are forced out with Percy Alleline, for which Control code-named Tinker (TOBY JONES), taking over the head position. Bill Haydon (COLIN FIRTH), code-named Tailor, becomes Alleline’s deputy while Roy Bland (CIARAN HINDS), code-named Soldier, and Toby Esterhase (DAVID DENCIK) as allies in the organization. After leaving, and already being ill, Control dies of natural causes.
Soon after, Smiley is called out of retirement to investigate an allegation by agent Ricki Tarr (TOM HARDY) that there is a mole deep undercover within MI6 and soon puts together a small team to investigate including duty clerk Jerry Westerby (STEPHEN GRAHAM) who will be Smiley’s inside man to gather information. Together, they work to weed out the mole and uncover more truths about exactly what Control was onto and how deep the conspiracy goes.
This is a strange movie to really grasp as you’re not entirely sure what to make of it. The direction can be confusing because Director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) would splice in single shots that would only last a few seconds and it takes some time to just digest exactly what you saw and how it relates to the story. So for a movie that’s nearly two hours, it’s not as gelled together compared with other suspense spy dramas. This is not a bad thing as it’s nice that Alfredson, along screenwriters Bridget O’Connor (who passed away in 2010) and husband Peter Straughan (The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Debt), didn’t merely spoon-feed the audience and instead makes you think and discern what exactly is going on. Even so, this is a fairly linear story despite going back and forth in time.
The highlight to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, however, isn’t so much with the story, although it did manage to maintain my interest throughout, but instead it’s the performances. First and foremost, of course, is Gary Oldman as George Smiley. While I do think he deserved his long-awaited Academy Award nomination, I don’t think this was his finest performance albeit there is one scene in which he recaps an encounter with a Soviet spy known as Karla, all by himself and in the present (rather than a flashback). It’s actually one of the more key scenes and probably the one that stands out.
The supporting cast, even with limited roles except for Stephen Graham and Tom Hardy, also give good performances. Graham for his part is impressive playing primarily opposite Oldman in many scenes and even in a few tense-filled moments as his character must find and photograph top secret files as part of the investigation. Although narrow, Oscar winner Colin Firth is decent as is Mark Strong in yet another decent performance following turns in Sherlock Holmes and, yes, even Green Lantern where I argue he’s probably the best part of that film…
All in all, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a slow churning mystery spy thriller that putts along primarily on Gary Oldman’s Academy Award nominated performance. If not for Oldman I don’t think it would’ve held up nearly as well. Even so, I still enjoyed the movie and might one day watch it again as there are so many things going on.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.0/5
Feature Commentary – Director Tomas Alfredson and Actor Gary Oldman for a subdued yet interesting track – with a bit of dry humor – as they chat about the origins of the movie, playing George Smiley, different camera angles, set locations, etc. It’s not a lively commentary but with Oldman in the room along with Alfredson, it makes it well worth listening.
Deleted Scenes (6:08) – Here we get a few scenes that, for whatever reason, didn’t make the cut (no doubt for pacing reasons). Overall, these aren’t anything special nor do they expand on the story in fact one scene merely has Oldman making and eating eggs (all in one take).
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: First Look (13:00) – This is a fairly paint-by-numbers featurette where members of the cast and crew chat about the plot and their characters but generally don’t divulge that much.
Previews – Being Flynn, The Grey, Pariah
VIDEO – 3.5/5
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is presented in its original 2.35 anamorphic widescreen and despite some heavy amount of noise and a discernible abundance of artifacting in places, it’s not too bad of a transfer for DVD but it certainly shows off the SD flaws.
AUDIO – 3.75/5
The provided Dolby Digital 5.1 track is adequate providing strong ambient noises coming from the front and rear channels as well as clear dialogue primarily using the center speaker. All around this is a fine track albeit nothing special.
OVERALL – 3.0/5
Overall, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy excels in the acting category, and more specifically an excellent performance from Gary Oldman, but the story doesn’t hold as much water as I’d hoped. Sure, some of the storytelling was well done but there’s so much going on and the jump cut from past to present can be tough to keep up with if you’re not fully engrossed. Still, this is a good movie worth checking out at least once.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman