Plot: In 70’s London, ex-operative George Smiley is brought out of retirement to investigate a mole within the department, narrowing it down to 4 high-order agents.
Thoughts: With the spy-thriller genre heavily adopted by the Hollywood blockbuster as of late, many classic tales have been ripped to pieces and re-sewn together as nothing more than rampant festivals of glittering explosions and gun-toting pretty boys. So when a brave new picture steps forward planning to do just the opposite, boasting top notch talent and solid source-material, are we right to question its purpose?
‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy’, briefly adapted once before as a heavily British 70’s TV mini-series starring Alec ‘Obi-Wan’ Guinness, appears on paper to be the obvious equivalent to financial suicide. An incredibly ambiguous and tough-talking spy feature, heavily toned, devoid of action sequences and leaning ever so heavily on a no longer fragrant Cold War setting sounds pretty far from any movie-goer’s usual tastes, and yet, whilst costing a cool $30 million, the film appears to be achieving critical (and no doubt because of it, commercial) success.
Due to the serious and politically motivated acts of the plot, the film relies almost whole-heartedly on its audience being both cultured and well-attending, a feature that eventually draws on both its negative and positive aspects. Whilst shrouding itself in a cloud of un-movable smoke, it manages to precisely and beautifully portray the story’s events in an original yet somehow classical manner, never insulting the audience’s intelligence for a second. However, in doing so, the film also limits its flexibility and finds itself making very little sense to most. Such obsessive vision and flawless listening skill is needed to simply understand the basic direction of the events portrayed on screen that many will surely be put off immediately.
Puzzling plotting aside, ‘Tinker Tailor, Solider, Spy’ boasts a gigantic cast of Britain’s best; a cast of outstanding individuals that do indeed make the movie. Gary Oldman appears to truly become industry-legend George Smiley, his performance so in-tune and undoubtedly perfect Oscar-bells will surely be ringing. Although it may not contain the humour and/or heart of some of his far more beloved roles, Oldman’s Smiley is a flawless wonder, you never once feel the urge to question his validity. Sensationally strong support is given from the likes of Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Toby Jones and John Hurt, with hot-topic Tom Hardy especially proving himself to be another rock-solid member of Britain’s acting elite and newbie Benedict Cumberbatch packing the emotional flare to book himself a place too. Despite the fact that the likes of Firth and Hurt may be considered to be underused by some (director Tomas Alfredson instead opting for more Smiley) their prevalent performances are never lost, a lingering presence always felt despite deflated screen time.
With a complex and astounding spy-thriller, the look and feel of the film must indeed be faultless, a feat easily crushed by incredibly capable Swedish director Tomas Alfredson. Alfredson not only manages to capture the bleak and silent attitudes of the Cold War magnificently, he twins it with an undying passion to tell the tale as originally wished in all its enigmatic glory. Game-changing plot twists and jaw-dropping reveals are clung to tightly, sometimes so much so that they lose effect, but ultimately this most caring approach works best. Alfredson feels no desire to ever be ostentatious or to fruitfully explain any aspect of the film’s plot to his audience and tonally, it works.
However, as said previously, when building a work of fiction, the events of the story must be the most important factor. They are indeed the building blocks of the narrative, the supporting pillars in which the rest shall stand and so, if your audience becomes far too lost or confused as to it’s meaning, the entire picture crumbles to pieces. Unfortunately, this just so happens to be the major malfunction of TTSS. The plot becomes so irretrievably convoluted that even some of the world’s most frequent cinema-goers may find themselves defeated by such complexities and although traditional in many aspects, Alfredon’s big reveals are mostly lost in the haze of attempting to make sense of what occurred previously; the rather abrupt but disclosing conclusion also devoid of shocks due to a shameful lack of clues prior to its reveal.
Although tonally a masterpiece, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy’ lacks the heart and energy to willingly reveal its tale fully to its audience, and in spite of the Oscar-worthy performances on show, without a coherent structure and followable narrative the film is impossible to grade highly. Technically masterful yet sinfully annoying and impossible to follow precisely.