Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is the first novel of the Karla Trilogy, the second and third novels being "The Honourable Schoolboy" (1977) and "Smiley's People" (1979). "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" was a TV miniseries in 1979 receiving praise for Alex Guinness where he followed his performance with "Smiley's People" in 1982. Other film adaptations of the George Smiley character came in "the Spy Who Came in From the Cold" (1965) and "Murder of Quality" (1991). John le Carré is the master mind behind these spy novels and adaptations with the latest vision being provided by director Tomas Alfredson.
The story can be difficult to absorb as there is a lot of information hitting the audience quickly. Much of the background story is told through the use of flashbacks while the main story centers on code names, deception, and the investigation techniques of George Smiley (Gary Oldman). Smiley has been forced into retirement by the departure of the Chief of the Circus (British Secret Intelligence Service), Control (John Hurt), but is asked to investigate a story told to him by a rogue agent, Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy), that there is a mole in the Circus. Smiley considers that the failure of a recent mission and the continuing success of Operation Witchcraft (an apparent source of significant Soviet intelligence) confirms this, and takes up the task of finding the mole. Through the efforts of Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), Smiley obtains information that eventually leads him to identifying the mole.
The mole is believed to be a senior intelligence officer of the Circus, so code names are used to protect those spying on the spies. The mole suspects are allocated code names by "Control" based on the nursery rhyme "Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor; rich man, poor man, beggarman thief". "Tinker" for Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), "Tailor" for Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), "Soldier" for Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds), "Sailor" and "Rich Man" are skipped as the former sounds too similar to "Tailor" and the latter seemed inappropriate, "Poor Man" for Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) and "Beggarman" for George Smiley. The investigation looks into each of the suspected moles, with the exception of Roy Bland, which confuses me.
Taking on this film was not an easy task for Tomas Alfredson, but with a superstar casting job the task was accomplished. The performances are all amazing from the methodical Gary Oldman to the intense rising star of Tom Hardy. However, a couple performances stand out from the group. Benedict Cumberbatch carries himself so well in the film not being intimidated by the experienced actors around him and his character even pops off on Percy Alleline, which felt so perfect in the moment. Mark Strong as the mysterious Jim Prideaux sends chills up your spine when he talks reminiscent of him from "Green Lantern". Finally there was the performance from Colin Firth as the depraved bisexual. His ability to act with such grace and delicate prose makes him one of my favorites. The character reminds me of his performance in "A Single Man" (2009) that is a must see film.
I am afraid the Cold War themes just don't resonate with modern film and the runtime of over two hours is difficult considering the slow and methodic pace that the film takes. I wanted to like this film more, and while the acting delivers extremely well the overall film lacks for the big screen. The miniseries format was much better applied to capture the vast knowledge necessary to uncover the mole. The film is absolutely worth seeing, but be wary that it might require a second viewing to fully absorb the mystery. Ultimately this is still a 4 Quack film, and I will be making a return viewing to fill in any of the gaps that I missed the first time.