Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Grade A


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Benedict Cumberbatch. Director Tomas Alfredson.

Gary Oldman gives a loving homage to Alec Guinness, who played the main character in the 1979 BBC television series based on the John Le Carre novel. I never thought anyone could play that role again after Guinness. But Oldman absolutely nails it, even down to the exact pace of speech.

George Smiley (Oldman) is retired MI6, brought out of retirement by the chief, who is dying, to find a Soviet mole in the spy agency during the Cold War. Smiley learns there are six main suspects the chief had been considering, one of them himself. In only a little over 2 hours of screen time, he finds the traitor.

The original BBC story took 7 hours to tell, so it is a remarkable screenwriting achievement to tell the same story in only 2 hours. But as a consequence, the plot is more impressionistic than detailed. Brief scenes hint at relationships that are important but which cannot be spelled out due to the time constraint. Six suspects, after all, is a lot of suspects for one mystery story. Plus, there is the matter of Smiley’s estranged wife, which figures importantly in the story.

But the screenplay is masterful and does its job. I wondered if anyone not familiar with the book or the BBC series would be able to follow the complicated story, and I worried if the movie would make money because of that. But it is making truckloads of money, so I guess it works.

There are some important changes from the original book and series. Some locations are changed (e.g., Hungary instead of Czechoslovakia), and the ending is new, rushed, and a bit contrived, somewhat anticlimactic for that. But overall the story is faithful in spirit to the original (Le Carre is credited as a producer). The music is beautiful, very restrained, and entirely fitting. Costumes and sets are perfection. Cinematography is careful and not a shot is wasted, so I guess that means the editing is also excellent.

At first I resisted Oldman, because I wanted so badly to see Guinness again. But he’s dead, so get over it, I thought, and very soon I accepted Oldman as George Smiley. If he can win me over, he can convince anybody.


  1. Sounds interesting.
    I'm convinced to watch it tomorrow.

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