Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Directed by: Tomas Alfredson Cast: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth Running Time: 2 hrs 2 mins Rating: R Release Date: December 16, 2011 (Chicago)
PLOT: A retired espionage expert (Oldman) is hired to find a mole within Britain's Secret Intelligence Service.
WHO'S IT FOR?: If you're interested in a true change of pace from the multiplex assault of December's calendar, and the catered potential Oscar fare, Tinker Tailor will certainly be a much different experience than Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and even The Artist. However this film might look and sound, keep your expectations out of the "typical" spy elements.
EXPECTATIONS: I haven't seen the original BBC mini-series, or read the book by John le Carre. However, all I needed was a cast of Oldman, Firth, and Hardy to know I definitely didn't want to miss this one (and I put it at #3 on my most anticipated of the season list). Another good reason was this film having the director of the stark Let the Right One In.
Gary Oldman as George Smiley: Probably known most for his shouting moments in certain memorable roles, Oldman steers Tinker Tailor with as little intensity as possible. Instead, he listens, he thinks, and he talks calmly with those who have the pieces to his puzzle. Oldman nonetheless holds our attention, even when he is doing the simplest of actions. For a character who sits down a lot, we become involved in his quiet ruminations, and ultimately, his passion to find out who the mole is. Score: 7
Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam: If Smiley is the Batman of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, then Cumberbatch is Robin, with a little bit of butler Alfred. Guillam is an accessory to Smiley's investigation, and only has a couple of scenes in which we get a sense of him as a person, other than an "office boy" who does the "physical" work that Smiley himself can't. Score: 6
Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr: Constantly proving himself to be an emotional force to be reckoned with, Hardy has one big scene to his character and he does quite well with it. Though receiving an assist from visual storytelling, he maintains our focus as he dives into a story of betrayal, and offers the story a glimmer of happiness. While not playing into his brute abilities, Hardy continues to show excellent control over a tear-eyed monologue. Score: 7
Colin Firth as Bill Haden: The Oscar-winner's work here is nothing of the same notoriety; instead Firth is a strong pillar in a whole supporting cast, adding a couple of splashes of character throughout the story. Firth is reasonably effective in his own scene, which sees him trembling with his jaw almost in the same way he did in The King's Speech. Score: 6
TALKING: Heavily propelled by sit-down conversations delivered in dark rooms, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy holds back from making anything too obvious with its dialogue. Considering the many names that are casually thrown in the story, and the movie's many paralleling story lines, perhaps the film is too short with revealing some detail. A fair amount of important evidence feels skimmed over once, and then never again. Nevertheless, the film begins with its overall dilemma, which is laid out pretty flat so that even kids could understand it: "There's a mole in the SIS." After that, audiences are left to their attention spans to keep up with the many characters and events that generally receive a subtle exploration by the script. It's also worth noting that the dialogue attempts to be as real as possible - there's not one biting line or moment of cleverness that feels more like over-screenwriting than it does real life. Score: 6
SIGHTS: When intelligence is in danger, the sunlight disappears - that's the moody effect of the lighting (or lack thereof) within the movie, which goes without one sunny day. Colors are muted, rooms are darkened, and it constantly looks like it is going to rain. The Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol contradictions continue in that no one even has a chance to sneak out some sunglasses (except Tom Hardy, when he's playing a spy-game with his feelings). Score: 7
SOUNDS: The general appearance of loud noises and obvious cues is practically non-existent with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. (Even The Iron Lady has more explosions). Whenever the score of Tinker Tailor does kick in, it's a smoky delight that utilizes somber, spare jazz. The breathing of the entire film is set nicely by a muted-trumpet piece that plays in the beginning, which takes its time in setting up the movie's dreary, and quite still atmosphere. Alberto Iglesias' score is one to keep in mind when shopping for soundtracks, or considering ones worthy of Oscar recognition. Score: 8
BEST SCENE: There is no moment in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that stands out as "the best," possibly because there's hardly a scene that seems to truly stand out at all. The movie's most involving moment, however, is when we witness the last stories from the Christmas party in the film's final flashback, as led by the startling usage of Iglesias' funkier version of "La Mer." For this one moment, Tinker has a striking attitude, even if it is contradicting its images in a Scorsese-like fashion.
ENDING: Tinker Tailor avoids having a strong definitive climax; Julio Iglesias' "La Mer" is used in a haunting sense as the parts of the story wrap up, while its metaphoric chess game is left open. The "information" remains to be a MacGuffin.
REWATCHABILITY: Seeing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a second time was a great help to meeting the movie at its intellectual level, but it still left me confused; even discussing it with my friend for twenty minutes afterward, we couldn't put all of the pieces together.
It's difficult to refrain from comparing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to the movies that surround it on the release calendar, especially as this is the type of film we don't see in America often. Even when they are guided by an intelligent story, our spies (Jason Bourne, for example) still have to display some definitive machismo, which usually comes in the style of being able to throw a punch, or doing a life-threatening stunt that no ordinary human being would ever do (such as with the new Tom Cruise movie, and with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows).
And yet with this movie's intellectual preference and lack of gun play (or even a climax), the film still feels as complicated as a diorama made by Downey Jr.'s hyperactive version of Sherlock Holmes (more specifically, the one he makes for tracking Moriarty in Game of Shadows). One might say that this intricacy makes the script more rich in matters of plot, but everything eventually becomes quite complicated. For example, a fair amount of code names are used, and it's not the easiest task to keep them all in order. This is the type of movie that requires a second viewing just to understand what seems like all of the pieces; even taking notes on a first viewing didn't make things as clear.
And yet, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a thoroughly composed film, with notable performances from its top-tier supporting acts, and especially its lead, Oldman. It's a movie that absolutely inspires you to keep up with it, even though at the end of this slow spy game, you're not sure what intel has been elusive.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10