Friday, January 6, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Director: Tomas Alfredson (my favorite Swedish director!)
Stars: (Almost) Every British Actor that I love

I've been holding on to this review for almost 2 weeks.  I'm not sure why but seeing as the film is opening (finally) to a wider release today then there's no better time for me to throw in my 2 cents. Also...don't ask how I, living in a suburb of a mid-sized southern city, got to see it prior to it's wide release. 

Oh and I want to give you a bit of a back story because in doing so I get to give my dad a shout out.  Hi Dad!  Just about a year ago I was in a situation where I was stuck indoors at my parent's house for 5 weeks with no opportunity for escape.  It was in this time that my father decided since he had my full attention, we would watch the original 1979 made-for-television mini-series, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy starring Sir Alec Guinness.  If you don't know, TTSS is based on a spy novel by John LeCarre.  The 6-episode series (7 if you're in Britain), according to my father, did a rather splendid job of getting most of LeCarre's novel in there.  Sure they had to leave out some stuff but mostly they got it right.  So when I first heard the news they were taking the book and making it into a 2+ hour movie I was skeptical to say the least.  How on earth could they get across what a 6 hour mini-series covered?  Well miraculously they did. 

Not only did they get it all across but they did it really well.  I really liked it.  In fact I liked it a lot.  I know, I need better adjectives. But I fear I won't do it justice. I'm still in awe that they were able to accomplish all that they did and I didn't once yawn or wish I were playing Angry Birds.  I will say that I think I benefited from seeing the mini-series first because at times it's a bit hard to follow.  There are tons of characters in the film and tons of other characters who are mentioned but unseen so there's a lot to keep track of.  What's nice about this film is that they really know their audience.  This isn't a movie for everybody.  If you're going to see it then it's because you have a thing for cold-war era espionage that doesn't involve a James Bond-type character who gets the job done without spilling a drop of his martini.  And always gets the girl.  This is soooo not that kind of movie.  It's clever and assumes you are too.  I like that in a movie.  Every once in a while my ego needs that kind of boost.

The movie did an incredible job of looking the part.  The word bleak doesn't even do it justice.  This was a Cold War movie that looked, well, cold.  The Russians are trying to get information. The English are trying to get information. Who knows what the Americans are up to. In fact that may be one of my favorite parts.  We're always involved in these 'Cold War, Russians are bad' movies and it's nice to take a back seat and let the Brits do the work.  Sure it gets a little screwed up but no smarmy American CIA agent swoops in to save the day.  Nope. All they needed was George Smiley, a retired MI6 spy brought back in to find a mole amongst the good folks at the Circus (aka the in-house name for British secret intelligence).

As mentioned with the look of the movie, director Alfredson did a fantastic job with taking us back to Cold War era.  Plus he went with a very restrained angle with the acting and action which is what does the novel the most justice.  Again, this isn't meant to be flashy.  It's long and drawn-out, and probably exactly what the spy business is really like.  Spies need information and don't always rely on guns to get it.  Sure, there is some shooting and a few people die but it's not glamorized at all. It's the price of war and unfortunate but necessary.  The characters in this are bummed because the Russians are ahead of them at every step.  In fact they all wear the same face in most scenes:

Ironically Smiley never smiles.  Not once. 
Even hottie Tom Hardy looks perturbed and nervous
If you were a spy during the Cold War era this is what a smile looks like.
Hi Benedict!   Don't worry, you can smile in other movies.  You've already got a few lined up which makes me smile!
Ok, Firth gets to smile but I think it's a requirement of his contract. 

The acting was terrific (I really should put a thesaurus to use) and Gary Oldman, as George Smiley, was better than I've ever seen him.  I say this with full authority that I've seen most of Oldman's work and never not liked him or thought he did a sucky job.  Dude can act.  He can do over the top but, as in this, is best when being restrained.  A lot of critics will argue that the best acting is acting you don't see or aren't aware of and this is an excellent example of that.  You don't always need to hit people over the head with a role to prove you're a talented actor (ahem, Charlize in Monster).  As you can see above, the film is filled with the likes of Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Colin Firth.  That would have been enough but then they threw in British staples like: Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, and Toby Jones.  Don't recognize those names? You'll recognize their faces. Each one put in a solid performance.  Movies with such large casts impress me, especially when they get folks like Colin Firth to take a smallish part.

Oh and my dad agreed that even though it was only 2 hours they pretty much nailed it. He's read the book too so he's my expert on the subject.  I don't feel like they left any vital part of the story out and were able to get everything in there.  It could have been way more complex or it could have ignored some major parts but it didn't.  It was a fully-realized story that keeps you intrigued from beginning to end.

Anyway I'm going to stop rambling about how much I liked the movie.  The critics aren't giving it unanimous love which perplexes me.  I'm going to have to read some reviews to see what the complaints are.  I can't imagine I'll agree with any of them. 

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