Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Directed by Tomas Alfredson.
2011. Rated R, 127 minutes.
Gary Oldman
Colin Firth
Tom Hardy
Mark Strong
Benedict Cumberbatch
Toby Jones
John Hurt
David Dencik
CiarĂ¡n Hinds
Kathy Burke

In October of 1973, a British Intelligence operation goes terribly wrong and one of its operatives, Jim Prideaux (Strong), is shot and captured. In the aftermath, George Smiley (Oldman) is among the people forced into retirement. At about the same time, a few others are promoted to prominent postions due to them getting their hands on some high grade Soviet intelligence. Fast forward a bit and Smiley is dragged out of retirement to perform a sensitive investigation. It is suspected that one of the men who have risen through the ranks is actually a mole. This is a remake of the 1979 film which starred Alec Guinness.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is indeed a spy movie through and through. However, it’s concerned with the drama of real people who are spies, not the stereotypical action heroes we’ve come to believe them all to be. The effort is placed on trying to figure out where the secret rooms are, who’s meeting there and what they’re saying, not in trying to dazzle us with our hero’s death defying feats. To this end, it sets a deliberate pace that will admittedly feel slow to some. For others, it will leisurely suck us in as we come to understand there is nothing leisurely about the situation at hand. We’ll grow more fascinated as the twists and turns mount. We may even feel we need a tour guide to help navigate the course.

This is where Gary Oldman comes in. Basically, he holds our hand through the maze. He doesn’t have all the answers but he’s darned good at looking for them. Since he is holding our hand, we can’t help but get to know him. What sticks with us most is how unhappy he seems. True, he makes Smiley a stoic chap, but that just seems to be how the man operates in his professional life. Beyond that, there is a deeper sadness to him. Obviously, part of it is because he was unceremoniously dumped when stuff hit the fan. There’s more to it than that due to some other things we find out over the course of our time with him. Even when he should be happy, he appears unsure that it’s alright to feel that way. Oldman conveys all of this perfectly in one of his most subtle portrayals.

All of the things that make TTSS wonderful can work against it, as well. As mentioned, it can drag at times. During this time, it’s possible to get a little lost. As great as the acting is there really isn’t much character development. The situation develops, the people do not. Finally, part of its charm is that it’s a period piece. Since the Cold War has been over for quite some time now, it can feel dated. Certainly, there is some relevance to today’s world but it may not be so easy to pick up. In the end, it’s an excellent spy flick that isn’t for everyone.

MY SCORE: 8/10

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