Film Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

(Editor’s Note: The following review may contain spoilers.  Please read on at your own risk.)

by Becky Mezzanotte

Back in September, I wrote a post (please see: “Warning! May Contain Spoilers (Or Can a Global Internet Society Keep Secrets?)”) about how I think I managed to ruin the end of Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy just by surfing through my Tumblr.  Well, last night (December 16), I finally had the opportunity to see the film that I have been excited to see since I heard about it in July.

Now, I have a friend (whose name is Chelsea) who is currently living in London and saw the film when it premiered in the U.K. back in September. She was really good about not telling me anything about the film. Only that she had a hard time understanding it and thinks she would have done better if she had read the book first. So, my movie going companion (whose name is Esther), decided to do a little experiment with this film when we finally had the opportunity to see it.

As Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is based on a book by John le Carré, the experiment we set up was simple. Esther would read the novel before seeing the film and I would not (even though I supposedly knew who the spy was). We would then discuss it afterward to see if the film was really as confusing as our London companion said.

The film opens in medias res (or in the midst of things) where we see Jim Prideaux (played by Mark Strong)  meeting with “Control” (played by John Hurt) about tracking down someone in Budapest who has information on a mole. The action that quickly follows sets up the entire story.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has a very simple plot overall. George Smiley (portrayed by Gary Oldman) is a retired MI-6 agent who is asked to investigate the mole who has been working in the upper ranks, as Smiley is no longer involved with the organization. But it’s how the story pans out and the journey the audience is taken on that makes this film intriguing.

Smiley works closely with Peter Guillam (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), the head of the scalp hunters in MI-6 (also known as the “Circus”).  The two visit other retired agents, and steal closed case files trying to unravel the identity of the mole inside the spy agency. The film does this by moving between the present and flashbacks that reveal evidence to the audience as quickly as the characters themselves make the revelations.

The script itself is carefully crafted, though I do have to admit that because there are so many characters I could see how you could easily get lost in who did what. Especially as there are codenames involved (this is a spy movie after all). But, the dialogue is really only used to support what director Tomas Alfredson is already showing us.

The cinematography and overall look of the film were carefully thought out. The film is shot in a much slower and simple style of filmmaking, almost reminiscent of the scenes Alfred Hitchcock would construct. There aren’t any big action sequences or quick cuts, just steady shots and cuts that move at a more relaxed pace to help build tension. The lighting and color of film are also reminiscent of an old film with heavy accent placed on a more blue-green tint to the film instead of a solid white balance, which is appropriate as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is set during the Cold War. In a word, the cinematography and lighting were gorgeous.

The performances by the actors were also spectacular, but I didn’t expect anything less. With an all-star cast consisting of Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Tom Hardy, and Benedict Cumberbatch, anything less than absolutely amazing would have been disappointing. These actors truly play off of each other and know how to act against one another to make the audience forget that they are only actors.

The one disappointing thing about this film was the score. The trailer promised big booming sounds and violin that created more tension to the story. What you heard was not that. Honestly, the score was rather unmemorable.

In general, I think I built this movie up in my head to be much bigger than it turned out. This isn’t saying that it’s a bad film. It is definitely not by any stretch of the imagination. What I’m saying is that I was expecting something different. But, this definitely won’t stop me from seeing it again.

But, now for the big question. How did Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy hold up against the experiment Esther and I set up? Well, I honestly wasn’t all that confused by watching the film and even though Esther read the book first, she said that the book is a completely different animal than the movie. Esther’s reaction to the film was actually much different than mine. As she had read the book first, Esther knew how the story played out. But, the film didn’t play the story the same way the book did and thus her opinion was less about how great the film was and more about how the film changed the book. This doesn’t mean that she disliked the film, but she was disappointed with how the book wasn’t the movie, which is always the case when it comes to adaptations. I think you need to look at this film as an individual product to judge its merit.

Oh yeah! And the spoiler I got back in September was actually the big revelation of the spy. And while I’d like to think that knowing who the spy was didn’t affect how I looked at the film, it did. Nonetheless, I highly recommend this film for anyone who likes spy movies, British actors, or just a movie that will make you think.

(The film poster for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy from Focus Features is used here for promotional purposes.  To see a trailer for the film, please check below.)

About Directed By Bex

Becky Blizard (or Becky Mezz as she is often called) cannot be defined in any sort of neatly packaged way. Becky is a beauty pageant contestant turned ballerina turned musician turned actor turned filmmaker/photographer turned adult figure skater and hockey player. A Baltimore native, she has lived in Prague, the Czech Republic, Cairo, Egypt and Washington, DC. In her free time, Becky can be found obsessing over Korean and British TV shows, learning new jumps on the ice, or yelling at a hockey game like a disappointed mother. Follow her on Instagram (@asdirectedbybecky) or Twitter (@DirectedByBecky).
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