Review – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

                     Rating = ★★½    Tagline = Rental

Of all the movies released last year, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, was amongst those that I was most looking forward to see. I have never read the book or seen the miniseries, but I have wanted to (and will do so soon). If nothing else, the movie will pique your interest to read the book and see the miniseries, if you haven’t already. Unfortunately, that’s about all it will do. It’s a shame, but I have to say that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy went from my list of most anticipated movies to see to my list of biggest disappointments in a movie last year. That said, it isn’t a bad movie. It just didn’t match my expectations, or the hype promoted around Gary Oldman’s great performance.

 A covert mission goes horribly wrong in Hungary. A British intelligence agent is shot. Former agent, George Smiley, is pulled out of retirement to head up damage control and get to the bottom of what happened. His task is to find a mole planted deep within the ranks of MI6, “the Circus.” It’s the only explanation for what went wrong. Smiley faces some tough resistance from the men in charge and can only fully trust one man “on the inside,” Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch).

 I was ready to turn my brain on high-thinking mode and get caught up in a super complex and engaging story. The movie completely fails on the latter point. You can’t say that the film is made badly. It’s actually made well. The thing is that it’s made in a way that is devoid of any real emotion. With no emotional hooks, there’s nothing to engage you, or to make you care about what happens to the characters. The movie centers around the hunt for the mole. Who is it? I found it hard to care. And when the mole is finally exposed and caught, there wasn’t an adequate, or satisfying, explanation of the motivations, passions, or emotions behind the treason. By the end of the movie, the mole could have been anyone and I would have been fine with it. There was some suspense along the way, but not a lot. For suspense the work best, you also need to have a vested interest in the outcome and to care about what might or might not happen. With no emotional energy, the movie was just an illustrated version of a newspaper article – facts performed for the camera. The facts were very interesting. Now I want to see a performance that brings them to life. This movie did not do that as well as I hoped.

 The plot is extremely complicated – leave for more than a second and you’ll be totally lost when you come back. By the third viewing, I finally caught on to all the turns, twists and facts in the story. You read correctly. I watched this movie 3 times. I was very interested to understand the story because my father had told me that the book, upon which the movie is based, was one of his favorites when he was about my age. I will read it next. The story isn’t the problem. The way it is told is the problem. I hate to use this word, but I have too – boring. I found myself getting bored a lot throughout the movie. I didn’t see this in a theater, so I actually had to “rewind” some parts because I “zoned out” a few times. It didn’t need to have tons of action to be compelling (movies like The Ides of March and Margin Call were extremely engaging without the use of action). There is pretty much no action in this movie – just a few fast-paced scenes. The narrative of the story was primarily advanced through a series of interviews conducted by Smiley and ensuing flashbacks.

They should have focused more on this guy.

The acting is really great. All the performances are super subtle – more subtle than I think I have ever seen. The only one that isn’t is Tom Hardy. He has a lot of charisma. I wish his character had more to do than trigger flashbacks, though. Gary Oldman is in a tricky place. He is excellent but it takes a while to get used to a character that shows no emotions and keeps the same facial expression all the way through the story. Other well-acted performances come from Mark Strong (it’s nice to see him not playing a villain for once) and Colin Firth. Both of them use their facial expressions in excellent ways. The rest of the cast includes John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Simon McBurney, Benedict Cumberbatch. So, basically every British actor who missed out on Harry Potter.

 The characters weren’t developed to any depth. And I wanted to know a more about them all. Every time I would start to like a character they would drop him and bring a new one in. Then that character wouldn’t come back until the end, or not at all. The only reason I cared about George Smiley is because he was in almost every single scene.

 The movie looks great. The cinematography is superb and serves to set the tone of the film. Costumes, and score are all very good. It really captures the time period well.

 Realistic, deliberately paced spy movies are rare. One great one that came out quite recently was, The American. That was a great movie. This one isn’t. Nothing got me excited about Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Every time I started to get excited, it ended a couple of minutes later. Because of the movie’s pace – slow and slower – there was no chance to engage the audience without engaging characters. As a result, it comes off as a bore fest. I loved watching the actors. The movie looked good. It had a promising plot. But this is a 2 hour movie where you feel every second of its running time. I really wanted to love this movie. Like I said, I saw it 3 times. I am giving this a much lower rating than I thought I would. I did like it, but I would be very hard-pressed to tell anyone to see it (won’t be everyone’s cup of tea). I also don’t think I will ever see it again. If anything, I am more interested to see the miniseries now. I did find things to like that kept my going. But a complicated story is supposed to keep you engaged and make you want to find out the mystery. Even if you don’t understand everything right away, you should desperately want to. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is not half bad, but it’s not half good either.


12 thoughts on “Review – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

  1. I agree that it’s emotionless and that you feel every minute of its running time and that it’s very difficult to understand. I also agree that the performances were great, and the look. But, come on! Half a star is way too low! Also, John Hurt, Ciarán Hinds and Toby Jones actually were in HP movies!

  2. Whoever wrote the screen play was either incompetent, or the book was completely indecipherable . I LOVED Oldman, and hung in there (twice!), but I have to say…”I didn’t really understand this movie”. Too convoluted .

  3. Nice review Alec, I found this film to be an utter bore. The unrealistic lack of emotion by the characters really annoyed the hell out of me. Smiley catches Bill banging his wife and barely raises an eyebrow? come on! While this was beautiful too look at in in a 70’s retro kind of way, its also slower than a fat lady on a lark at the supermarket. The only charcter that seemed realistic to me was Hardy as Tarr.

    • I was so disappointed with this movie. It is funny that the movie is aiming to be realist, but your right, there are lots of unrealistic aspects involved.


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