Thursday, December 22, 2011

FILM REVIEW: Tinker, Sailor, Soldier, Spy

I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy at the Landmark Theaters E-Street Cinema in Washington, D.C. with some co-workers. I had never read the John Le Carrré’s classic bestselling novel on which the film is based or seen the classic BBC adaptation starring the great Sir Alec Guinness but I had heard a radio interview with Gary Oldman  which intrigued me.

The basic outline of the story is about the search for a possible Russian double agent at the very top echelons of the British Intelligence Service (called M.I.-6) in the mid 1970s at the height of the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Bloc. There are four main suspects, codenamed (you guessed it) "Tinker," "Tailor," "Soldier," and "Poor Man" with "Beggarman" being the codename given to the main protagonist portrayed by Oldman, whose character's name is George Smiley.

The movie is set in London in the 1970s and the filmmakers have taken their charge very seriously, meticulously re-creating a 1970s workplace with a striking lack of racial or ethnic diversity, ubiquitous smoking and inappropriate social situations. Watching the movie in 2011 one is also immediately struck by the lack of technology we take for granted: no computers, no cell phones (not even cordless phones!), no satellite/GPS technology.

The investigation into the mole involves a lot of examination of papers and starts off incredibly slowly. For the first ten minutes of the movie there is almost no dialogue and almost no action to speak of. I believe the film makers are trying to put the audience in the position of the characters where both groups are starting with no information and trying to piece together what is going on from various cues and small, disconnected bits of information.

In fact, communication and the movement of information (or intelligence) between individuals is a central theme of the film. Multiple times, a question is asked of one character to another and the director cuts to a different scene without explicitly depicting the answer to the question being given. The audience is required to infer the answer to the question from subsequent scenes and actions by the characters. This is similar to how Oldman's Smiley has to infer the answers to questions he has about the motivations behind the actions of his four "old friends" who are now his main suspects for betraying their country.

Oldman's Smiley is a quiet, horn-rimmed glasses and tweed-jacket wearing middle-aged British bloke. He looks more like an accountant than an international spy with a license to kill. Most of the "action" per se is in watching Oldman's reactions as he doggedly chases the truth and he sifts through the responses people are giving him to his questions. However, as the movie unspools the pace accelerates faster and faster, like a ball of twine rolling down hill. The audience has to pay more and closer attention to keep hold of the thread.

The rest of the cast is also stellar, featuring John Hurt, 2011 Best Actor Oscar-winner Colin Firth, Inception's Tom Hardy and PBS's Sherlock Ian Cumberbatch.

TitleTinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Director: Tomas Alfredson.
Running Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, some sexuality/nudity and language.
Release Date: December 9, 2011.
Viewing Date: December 16, 2011.

 Plot: A.
Acting: A.
Visuals: B+.
Impact: B-.

Overall Grade: (3.5/4.0).

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