First off, I want to say that I own the book, the 7 part Tv series, the BBC4 audiobook and this DVD of the film. I'm not trying to make out, I'm some kind of expert, (I know I'm not!), but to make the point that each is unique and has to be judged on its own merits. They are all in a different medium and are distinct, although the source material is obviously the same. I mean what is the point of critically comparing any film to its book?
Anyway, I approached this film in that way, on its own merits and I think it is very accomplished. The acting on show is first class, with turns from Firth, Hurt, Cumberbatch and Toby Jones and Tom Hardy. At the centre, Oldman is very good as the introspective, cerebral, Smiley. There is a terrific little scene early on, in a car, where there is a wasp or bee buzzing around inside the vehicle. Whereas the other occupants flap their arms around trying to shoo it away, Smiley simply watches it and calmly opens his window to let it fly out. It nicely frames the character of the man in a simple scene with no dialogue.
The identity of a spy in MI6 is slowly revealed as Smiley, methodically, pieces the clues together.
(As a side note, the lives of these people really don't seem very appealing to me at all. just a life of suspicion and subterfuge, with a bit of paranoia and loneliness thrown in, at no extra cost).
I gave it 4 stars out of 5, not as a film adaptation of a book, but as a film. It is very well made, the acting is top-notch and it has a gripping story. Ticks the boxes for me.
on 1 January 2013
Why compare this 2 hour film with the 6 hour serial, or require it to be a precise rendition of a book of more than 400 pages? I thought it a fine attempt to take many plot threads and make two hours of entertainment from them, I enjoyed items that were not present in the book. I do wonder though how the following books will be filmed now that Guillam's character has been changed.
Firstly, there are no explosions, chases, babes or helicopters (as if any potential viewer didn't know that) so be prepared to sit, watch and think rather than expect action and glitz to flow over you. Sure, there are some holes and inconsistencies; I suppose that I take a less forensic view to viewing films than do many of the reviewers here.
I don't care that we don't see the characters build to point the way to the identity of the mole because for me the identity of the mole is immaterial. This is about loyalty, betrayal and sacrifice. A few examples:
* Guillam ends his relationship immediately on considering that it might be used against him, quite a sacrifice in my opinion.
* A terrific moment of acting as Smiley makes a deal with Tarr that he knows will violate Tarr's trust because he can't fulfil the spirit of the deal.
* What a strange world where someone who makes such a sacrifice for their country ends up living in a caravan and teaching at a boarding school after being bunged only a few quid and a car.
There were some nice juxtapositions that made me think of how fragile lives might be and the fine line between normality and hardship. During a most stressful task undertaken by Guillam we see many characters singing along and playing along to George Formby singing Mr Woo; presumably chosen in the script as being light and frivolous and something that Roy Bland would be likely to sing afterwards to show Guillam how closely he was being observed. Whilst Prideau was being tortured his `minder' was just sitting by reading a newspaper to while away the time.
The atmosphere was wonderfully dusty, smoky and brown so conveying the impression that these are strange, quiet people in a strange world. Oldman's acting was great but then I almost always agree that `less is more'.
Lastly, there was the great irony of the Soviet national anthem at the Christmas party; tremendous, made me laugh.
If you judge it on its own merits and treat it as entertainment then I think it is good value. It's not as good as the TV serial but why shouldn't it be different?
on 28 December 2015
That was the reaction of the family when I showed this over Christmas. I had two advantages over them (a) I'd seen it before, and (b) I'd read the book many years ago, so I could remember the bare bones of the plot. I enjoyed the film and the way it recreated the Cold War era of my youth and early adulthood, the whole sepia-toned perplexing atmosphere of the thing and the excellent actors (some of whom really had only bit parts). I guess that, when compressing a complex book into a 2-hour film, something's gotta give.
The family also enjoyed the cinematic experience - what they did not enjoy is the plot, which they only barely discerned. They knew there was a mole at the top of the Circus, they saw that the mole was unearthed, but they couldn't figure out how the film got from one to the other. They were perplexed by the flashbacks, not being at all sure that that's what they were, or how they fitted into the scheme of things. They were totally bewildered by the singing of the Soviet National Anthem at the Christmas party (a frill absent from the book)! In short, it was a film that they could tick off as having seen, but which didn't enthuse them. (We are talking here about a family all of whom have university degrees and are very literate). To them, it came across as a series of discrete tableaux, each beautifully realised, but which didn't seem to hang together at all.
I can see their point, which makes me wonder why the plot couldn't have been made clearer. Was it destined only for hardened Le Carré fans? For pseudo-intellectuals who can read into it whatever they want? The moral of the story is, if you haven't seen it, either read the book or watch the longer BBC serialisation with Sir Alec Guinness as George Smiley. You then stand a fighting chance of coming out of the experience with a reasonable feeling that you haven't wasted your money.
on 8 December 2011
Must admit, I'm quite surprised that even the mainstream critics dared to rate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy so highly. Not because it isn't brilliant, which it is, but because critics have to consider their readership and, well... I would say that if you are finding the film dull or uninvolving then it's just not your cup of tea, which is fine. In fairness it is very literary, the plot can be hard to keep up with and the dialogue is rather jargonistic (but really shouldn't be too difficult to decipher).
At the other end of the scale are the narrow-minded purists with their nostalgic view of the original BBC TV series, which was excellent for it's day but really doesn't hold up very well at all. I can remember when TV didn't pander to such short attention spans, but watching it on DVD I found the Alec Guinness version quite flat, and not in the moody, atmospheric way that it should be. It's okay to prefer the series, but that shouldn't come with an obligation to trash the film.
Tinker Tailor... gives us a small history lesson. This world of espionage is far removed from the bare-faced escapist fun of 007. The true face of the cold war in the 60's & 70's was this, a very private game played by lonely, vain, repressed old Oxbridge throwbacks in stuffy offices. Field agents were merely pawns to be used and abused. British Intelligence was under-funded, ineffective and disliked by the CIA. Gary Oldman's cool, understated incarnation of George Smiley views his former employer for what it has become- rejected, out-of-touch, eager to get back into the game and on the brink of it's own downfall. I hadn't read the novel beforehand but had no trouble following the plot or being absorbed by the story. All of the performances are great and the direction beautiful. What you get is a dark, dense, intelligent, sophisticated film. You may feel a little lost at times, but that's okay. All the pieces fit together in the end, and pretty much every scene turns out to have its own significance.
My only niggle would be a moment where we get to spend what seems like ten minutes watching Tom Hardy's character kissing his girlfriend. It felt like an intermission, but maybe that's just me. Apart from that, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the best film I've seen for years. At least LeCarre isn't as precious about his material as some of his fans. He loved it too.
on 12 December 2016
While I'm not a complete Alec Guiness fan, his Smiley had to be the one to aim for, to emulate, to surpass? And while I'm also more than aware that in the right role Gary Oldman is a deeply convincing actor of no mean skill, his Smiley is underplayed but lacks the ice that the Guiness version sometimes freezes the room with.
When I see a second attempt to film a story where the first rendtion is an archetype, a masterpiece, I'm just - puzzled. This one is inferior in every way and I don't know why they did it. The screen-time is reduced so that pruning was needed; so the Ricky Tarr sub-plot was cut way down from the Bennet version. Ciaran Hinds (spelling?) was given nothing to do except look here and there and be seen in scenes - yet he's a very capable actor - but his ability was given nothing to do. What a waste. And I saw that Le Carré was in the list of three executive producers - amazing he permitted this treatment of one of his masterworks.
If the first one hadn't been made then perhaps this one might have impressd more. Perhaps that's unfair but to say that comparisons are unfair is as meaningless as a junkie's promise to quit. Comparison here is inevitable and this production loses out in every scene, every piece of story line. It's just not very good - and with the talent available on this cast list, should have been many times better than it was. And why was Guillim turned gay? Lip service to the Gay Pride movement?
This 2011 Working Title Films production of Le Carre's 1974 novel 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' has attracted positive critical reviews, been generally liked by audiences, received some well-deserved award nominations and reportedly made a healthy box-office profit on its modest US$21 million production cost, so is an unexpected commercial success for the French investor StudioCanal.
Director Tomas Alfredson has delivered a serious film for an intelligent audience, but due to the time-constraints of a single 120-minute feature film, the result necessarily compresses the story so much that you need to pay close attention. A complex plot full of intrigue, double-bluff and the slow revelation of characters' hidden motives through real-time action and flashbacks means if you know Le Carre's novel then you'll be better placed to enjoy the film on first time viewing; if you're unfamiliar with the source material, then seeing the film a second time might make for a more satisfying viewing experience as the number of characters and complexity of the plot can be a bit confusing on first pass.
All the cast deliver fine performances with Gary Oldman in superb form as the world-weary but calculating and highly intelligent George Smiley, who has been called out of forced retirement to carry out a discrete investigation to uncover a suspected Soviet mole operating at the highest level of `the circus', the inner core of the UK overseas intelligence service MI6. Oldman has become a fine mature actor and proves here that `less is more', dominating some of his scenes by sheer presence, often with sparse or even no dialogue.
The 1970s period detail is pretty accurate with clothes, hairstyles, cars, interiors and the drab accoutrements of office life - paper files, tele-printers, manual typewriters, telephones, dreary furniture - setting the tone. There's not much color here, and the film's look is bleak and washed-out to reinforce the subject matter and the mood. The scenes set in Budapest and Istanbul look even bleaker and greyer than London.
The film is true in spirit to Le Carre's 1974 novel, so not natural Hollywood fodder. There is no `hero' (Smiley is a kind of anti-hero); all the characters are in some way flawed and none very sympathetic; there is little cinematic action, no gun battles, explosions or car chases. There is precious little humor, but it's not that kind of film. The few scenes of violence are brief and understated, casual and shocking but never dwelled on. The audience is invited to pay attention, to watch the characters closely, to listen to the dialogue and think. The duplicitous and closed world of the secretive cold war spying game is very well realised, and has little in common with the glamorous, fast-paced eye-candy of James Bond films.
If you like your entertainment served on a plastic plate with fries and fizzy cola to wash it down, best steer clear of `Tinker Tailor'. This is a film for grown-ups, and a more sophisticated palette will better savour its qualities.
See if you can spot John Le Carre himself in a brief cameo role…
on 17 January 2012
For everyone comparing this new movie to the book and the tv series (and I am a fan of both) - Le Carre himself has said in interviews that he categorically did not want someone just copying the book or even the series. He wanted a new take on the story. Yes, it is different. Of course it would have been nice to have characters fleshed out a bit more, but then, I think that will be the problem with anyone who has read the book or seen the series - you expect the same thing stuffed into an hour something, and that is nigh on impossible. My only personal gripe is that I didn't really understand some seemingly superficial changes, like Sam Collins (in the book) being changed in name to Gerry Westerby (considering Gerry is a whole big character on his own in the second book, and ultra posh to boot), Czech Republic being changed to Hungary etc. But that is minor, and overall, I think this was a great, quiet movie, the kind of thing you just don't get anymore. To the commentator who said this movie was more about betrayal than spies, it's probably true that this was the emphasis, but in the book, it is just as much about the nature of betrayal in relationships as it is about spies (in the book see Guillam/Camilla, Smiley/Ann, Little Bill/Prideaux, Connie/The Circus and even reality as she knew it, etc etc), to the point where you wonder if there is anything redeeming about the world outside of the Circus.
on 3 January 2012
Whilst I have not seen the older bbc production, I have read the book and I must say this film condensed the long and twisting plot very well and only dropped a few non-vital scenes. The acting of Oldman and Hardy stands out from the rest of the cast, which is really saying something as any of the other actors performances alone would be a show stealer in a different film. If your looking for explosions and gunfights then this is not the film for you, however if you want a smart, somewhat complex film about the Secret Service, then you can't get any better than this.
This may not be as absorbing as the Sir Alec Guinness original but nevertheless it has plenty going for it not least Le Carre's trademark labyrinthine plot threads.
Perhaps a failing might be that there wasn't enough characterization built of each player in the MI6 'circus' : a fault in the overall film,especially as these actors are top class and could easily have contributed more to their roles given the chance.
I was left with the feeling that this would have been the equal of the original tv miniseries if indeed it had consisted of several segments and more depth.As it is Oldman's remote,cold portrayal of George Smiley carries the film in my opinion but it wasn't enough to make this into a classic.
It probably warrants a 2nd viewing to fully absorb the plot. I will certainly do that just to experience the beautiful Citroen DS driven by Cumberbatch, glimpses of other 70's cars, and some of the music especially 'Le Mere', a beautiful French classic updated with a disco beat .
on 13 June 2012
One of the best peices of writing I have read in a novel occurs in John Le Carre's TTSS when Smiley breaks down Toby Esterhazy's resistance after piecing together the many parts of the puzzle that have led him to uncovering the identity of the traitor who has remained hidden at the highest levels of British Intelligence. The mixture of cold logic, hypothesis and emotional manipulation are replaced in this film by the crude physical threat of packing Toby onto a transport plane and returning him to his native Hungary into the hands of the KGB. Ignoring, for a moment, the damage to morale this would do to a Service which, one presumes, relies heavily on foreign help, this crudity in the script exemplifies the lack of understanding of the novel that pervades the whole film.
The miscasting is quite astounding. It is as though they had all decided to swap parts for the day and that got mistaken for the final cut. The "father-figure" of Percy Alleline is played here (by Toby Jones) as a mean-minded type who would be lucky to be in charge of a grocery shop. Colin Firth's Haydon is so neutral we don't know who he is and the excellent Ciaran Hinds as Roy Bland is hardly seen. Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) is completely misunderstood by the writers. In the book, when a fatally injured owl falls into Jim's classroom he carefully takes it outside, away from his pupils to end its misery painlessly. In this film a perfectly healthy owl is cut down in mid-flight and murdered in front of the whole class. Jim comes across as a psychopath instead of the loyal soldier who represents all that was good about old Britain.
I could believe in this Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), played as gay in this film but not that he could strong-arm this Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) whose past included running guns in Marseilles.
And then there is Gary Oldman's Smiley, who manages to survive the scenes by looking suitably quizzical and aloof. Perhaps there is a good performance there but this director does not bring it out. Tomas Anderson's direction implies Smiley's puzzle-solving but does not allow us to see any of it - almost as if he only wished to film the parts of the story which weren't part of the original plot. For example, we see the traitor about to be discovered and some time after he has been discovered but lose the drama of the discovery itself.
There is some excellent work here - the evocation of the 70s, the smokey atmospheres, the attitudes to women all bring the period to life. And I could have been convinced by an altogether harsher band of spies, (Le Carre's writing over the years has become more cynical, less forgiving) but this film seems to deliberately oppose the book rather than accepting it and this seems a waste. The best additions to the film are the several scenes from a Circus Christmas party: Smiley left isolated as his colleagues give a rousing rendition of the Soviet national anthem while his wife is outside snogging an unseen lover, this scene really captures the misfit in a base world.
The film ends with another wrong choice: Smiley and Guillam look quietly triumphant as Smiley sits at his desk as the new Control. The book made Smiley a tragic figure: unmasking the mole merely confirmed that his life's work had been a waste, even his marriage had been violated by the enemies he was supposed to keep from his door. As I watched, I was reminded of Chekov's comment as he watched the first version of The Seagull but in this case it was the director and writers who did not understand.