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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Submitted by MBergeron on January 6, 2012 – 1:57 pmOne Comment
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The laid back, eye-of-the-hurricane calm that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy exudes puts it on the level of the best espionage films made. The direction by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) emphasizes the routine and administrative nature of the spy business, only to occasionally explode, not so much with action but the aftermath of said action.

Based on the novel by John le Carré (who makes a cameo appearance in a holiday party scene), TTSS does a fantastic job of condensing the story as well as making the mundane an unsafe place. The plot is quite convoluted yet Alfredson easily relates in a couple of hours the same story that was made into a BBC series in the late 70s, a few years after the approximate time period in which TTSS takes place. In fact that six-hour adaptation of le Carré’s spy tome is remembered for many things including Alec Guinness’ portrayal of lead character George Smiley. Guinness made TTSS between his Obi-wan roles in the first two Star Wars films.

Alfredson doesn’t jettison any of the previous version’s plot points and remains true to the narrative arc, finding a Soviet mole in MI6. Still there’s a lot jammed into the proceedings, but whereas the mini series used entire episodes for various missions the movie strips the meat down to the bone while still serving a sumptuous meal.

To wit: Jim Prideaux’s (a strong performance from Mark Strong) adventures in Budapest are grounded in cold reality unlike the jumping-through-the-forest chase in the 1979 version. Smiley’s wife does make at least three peripheral appearances but you swear you never saw her. There are other abridgements but the one I’m most thankful for revolves around one scene where the previous TTSS showed a person getting killed by a single karate chop. Not saying it can’t be done, but c’mon on. If anything, Alfredson’s TTSS is rooted in verisimilitude, like his subtle direction of a scene where Smiley and two others are cruising down the highway and there’s a bee in the car. The men in the front seat swat aimlessly at the air but Smiley reservedly and delicately merely rolls down his window when the bee flies into his personal space. We see all of this in one shot.

Gary Oldman plays Smiley to perfection and while he’s the star, and even a suspect to some, the film plays like an ensemble piece. Good performances all around, especially Tom Hardy (despite his wig), John Hurt and Colin Firth.

- Michael Bergeron

One Comment »

  • Daniel says:

    It was definitely the pacing of the film that I appreciated most-the bee scene illustrates that feel perfectly. How many other spy flicks take this approach? Too few. Great review, Mr. Bergeron.

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