Saturday, January 7

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

There are different sorts of negative reactions to films.  There’s the absolute feeling of disgust after watching mere minutes of Birdemic, a film so terrible that I cringe when I hear the name.  There’s the annoyance with movies such as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which have such a love affair with CGI and poor scripts.  The worst kind, I have found, is viewing a movie which I have anticipated for weeks, if not months, only to find that not only did the film not reach my expectations, but I didn’t even think was entertaing, or good, in general.  Unfortunately, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is probably the most disappointing film I’ve watched in years.

For much of the movie, I was completely and utterly confused.  I went in expecting a taut, reasonable paced spy thriller.  Watching the trailer, I knew not to expect Jason Bourne or James Bond, but I found Tinker Tailor to move at molasses speed.  Despite this slowness, with the exception of a few, sparse scenes, I still could not figure out what was happening. 

Here’s the synopsis from Amazon: "High-ranking intelligence officer George Smiley (Gary Oldman) was forced out of service when a mission in Hungary went very wrong, but rumors of a Soviet mole hidden within the agency bring him back into play. If the theory of the former head, Control (John Hurt), is to be believed, the mole is at the very top, one of four senior officers, played by Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Firth, and David Dencik (of the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). With the help of a lower-ranking agent with a few secrets of his own (Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock) and a field agent who may be a source of disinformation (Tom Hardy, Inception), Smiley slowly draws out the clues he needs to lay a trap for the mole."

That synopsis makes it sound quite intriguing.  All I could’ve told you was, “Smiley has to find a mole in the intelligence agency and people told him some stuff which might've helped him....I'm not sure.” 

One of the reasons I found myself so confused was the film seemed to feature multiple flashbacks, but they were not clearly identified as flashbacks.  A review I read noted how early in the film a character purchases a new pair of glasses, which are a different color than the first pair he wears.  Supposedly something like that is supposed to cue me in to the flashbacks.  However, when that scene occurred it appeared that it showing the character in ‘normal’ life and there had been no indication that flashbacks would be occurring.  Thus, something as subtle as different colored glasses didn’t seem to have any reason to stick out at me.

Furthermore, I never felt very connected to many of the characters.  Half way through the movie I didn’t care who the spy was, because I didn’t care enough about the characters to want to know.  I just wanted them to find the spy so the film could end.  The characters that are under suspicion are used sparsely throughout the film, which gives no good chance for good characterization.  Even Gary Oldman’s character felt disconnected to me.  I never felt like I knew him well enough to want to root for him, which left me feeling removed from the story.

There were some other small issues which caused confusion.  A character’s name is ‘Control,’ however, many spy movies use Control as an organization, or at least the head group at an intelligence agency.  When ‘Control’ was referenced, I assumed such an organization.

Adding to the general slow pace of the film, were several scenes in which nothing seems to happen.  Characters spent time slowly sifting through papers.  In one case, the camera lingers on a document put in a lift, as the lift travels several stories.  While a semi-interesting shot, it’s length was completely unnecessary.

Many people have lauded the look of the film.  While not bad, I wasn’t overly impressed with the cinematography.  A gray tone seemed to fill the frame, and lighting was generally dark.  Action within the frame was generally slow as well, since most of the cast were elderly British men.  Again, I don’t need a Jason Bourne style fight, but watching an empty staircase for five seconds before Gary Oldman finally walks through the frame was not very interesting.  Had the story been paced better, and told better, I think the look of the film would’ve supported the mood.  Instead, however, I found the frame to generally be rather boring.  Most shots seemed to be mid shots or long shots as well, and I noticed there didn’t seem to be as many close ups.  This also hindered the ability to connect with the characters, though I suppose it meant to evoke a feeling of the distance Smiley feels from those he’s investigating.

So was there anything good about the movie?

The film does have a solid cast, and the actors fill their roles as well as they can considering the script.  There were also some individual scenes which were well done.  A café scene early the film was especially suspenseful, and parts of Tom Hardy’s character’s story were interesting, and among the easiest parts to follow.

Please also note, I have not read the book, nor seen the BBC miniseries.  If you have read the book or watched the BBC version, there is a good chance you’ll enjoy this much more than I did.


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