Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: My take on the movie starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch & Tom Hardy

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth et al opens tomorrow. I was lucky enough to see an early screening a couple of weeks ago up in beautiful Santa Barbara. My main concern, despite beautiful acting, is the complexities of the plot and whether the audience can track the action. I thought I'd repost a portion of my comments again today.

Here's what I said:
And so it began. And right off the bat, it was different from LeCarre's gentle start with Jim Prideaux arriving at the school in its bucolic setting. Instead we are taken to the Circus right away. If I thought for a moment that the film might be leaving LeCarre's quiet suspense behind in favor of a more modern taste for fast action I was wrong. The film moves slowly but steadily along, with frequent flashbacks from this spy or that to explain what they knew, when they knew it, and who they told, thereby explaining the intricasies of the plot.

But do they? Having read the book, I had a pretty good handle on who the fairly large assortment of spys and counterspies were and what they were doing. And yes, in this somewhat tidied up version, a few of those names were lopped off; I wonder how easily the storyline is followed by someone who hasn't (heaven forbid) read the book first?



All the key players are that special brand of British actor - every movement solid and believable, no false notes. John Hurt as Control was every bit as wild and paranoid as his literary counterpart. i wonder if he will be considered for a Best Supporting nod. I do think it wouldn't have hurt Gary Oldman to have picked up a pound or two to pad his girth so he could more readily be LeCarre's fat barefoot spy, and I admit to examining the lines on his face from one scene to another to determine their source, makeup or life. Makeup I think. Having said that, I thought he was quite wonderful in his patient, calm, quiet reserve on the exterior, George Smiley. He isn't really called upon to do much more than that though, with a couple of exceptions, one being where he sees his wife in the arms of another man. (Won't say whose arms for those who haven't read it) so I don't think it has the histrionics needed for award season.  The director has all but hidden the elusive Ann from our eyes, perhaps so we can create the perfect fantasy woman that Smiley holds her to be? There is a lovely moment when we view George from the back, as he sees Ann, his legs barely buckle at the sight. It's a very subtle and perfect touch.
Tom Hardy is sensual and gives us the touch of sex we all secretly crave but he's more than his full, almost pornographic lips. His recounting to Smiley of the Irina adventure is one of the most endearing and emotional scenes in the film. Mark Strong isn't at all what I pictured when I read about Jim Pridoux and they've changed a bit about his role in the plot (in the book it's a little more action-oriented!) and I would have loved some more sweet moments with Bill Roach and the other boys but he won me over; his eyes tell a thousand tales. I really feel the need to imdb him and see everything else he's been in. My husband worked with him on Tristand and Isolde starring James Franco and says he is just a terrific guy, classically trained, brilliant but likeable. Colin Firth, the film's movie star, as Bill Haydon was quite as charming as LeCarre intended but isn't he always? That mix of swagger and vulnerability, the offhand smile; he's quite deadly.

I had never heard of the director, Tomas Alfredson, before. He's a Swede who has done mostly nordic television work so I can't quite fathom how he landed such a plum job. He did helm the vampire flick "Let the Right One In" - it may have a cult following I'm not aware of. Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan wrote the screenplay together as they did Sixty Six, again a film I've never heard of. BUT Straughan also wrote The Debt and Men Who Stare at Goats so the writing assignment does make sense.

Grey and gloomy London, Budapest and Istanbul, the Circus with it's soundproof modules, tatty old English homes and Control's crazed hoarder's flat all read beautifully and authentically thanks to Maria Djurkovic's production design, and Hoyte Van Hoytema's cinematography. The costume design by veteran Jacqueline Durran was perfect in its imperfection, just what you would expect from someone who did the wardrobe for Atonement, Pride and Prejudice and Vera Drake. Her latest film is Anna Karenina (what? again?) with Keira Knightly and Jude Law; period pictures are clearly her element.


In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the film even while finding some of the English accents a bit muddled even for the daughter of a couple of Brits. I found its slow pace, revealing the ins and outs methodically, compelling. I'm just not sure if the film will find its audience; mature, appreciative viewers and readers who don't mind doing a bit of work following along to get to the end. No visual tricks, barely a gun shot. An ending that's a bit more telling than the book's and ultimately a bit more satisfying for those who like things tidy. I just found out from imdb John LeCarre is uncredited as a party guest. See if you can spot him.
Now, follow the link to Word and Film here, where  they have a completely different point of view. She thinks the narrative is an easy trail to follow. What do you think?


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