Take James Bond, The Bourne Identity, Mission: Impossible and True Lies and combine them altogether, you'll get a movie that's about as far away from what Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a methodically methodical thriller that harkens back to spy films of old, does it well, and then does it too well. The result: an even-tempered, extremely well-made picture that requires more patience from its audience than it has any right to and lacks a gratifying pay-off for doing so.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is directed by Tomas Alfredson, who did the excellent vampire drama Let the Right One In. Based on the John le Carré novel, the movie is about a Soviet double-agent that has infiltrated the highest levels of the British Secret Intelligence Service, which compromises England's security and subsequently its allies. Unassuming George Smiley (Gary Oldman) leads the charge, quietly pursuing the mole using every asset at his disposal.
The movie relies on the subtlest of expressions, the faintest of musical cues, a word out of place here, a person out of place there. It's no Fast and Furious, where the plot hinges on extensive action sequences and not much else. The action is minimal, nearly nonexistence, though there are one or two well-timed deaths. Even the suspense is subdued, the film's greatest thrills the small ‘aha' moments that arise throughout its plot.
In other words, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy isn't made for American audiences.
Alfredson's direction, combined with the film editing by Dino Jonsäter, is spot-on, and it needs to be. The movie is based on a long book that was once turned into a seven-part mini-series; condensed to two hours, ever seconds counts. The tone, the colors and everything else are just right; it is the movie the filmmakers set out to make.
Unfortunately, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is too slow for its own good. I hate to call such a good movie "boring", but it comes tediously close at times. It's so methodical, the clues and drama and suspense so subdued, that it's hard to really get sucked into the whole affair. Worse, it's confusing, which is fine, but lacks the pay-off to make it all worth it. A twist is expected, but the story plays surprisingly straight; people looking for that "oh shit" moment should look elsewhere. I was looking for that moment and didn't get it.
The acting is terrific, but it's hard to embrace Gary Oldman for Best Actor as many have suggested over the months leading up to the film's release. Oldman is perfect for the role, but his performance is so restrained, so beneath the surface, that it's hard to see him competing against other, more powerhouse deliveries. Though he's top-billed, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is very much an ensemble story, and Oldman isn't the standout.
The movie is at its best when Tom Hardy is on screen, however; playing a semi-rogue field agent, Hardy brings some much needed energy to the film. His character is interesting, his back story compelling, and he's one of the few characters who speaks his mind. Unfortunately, due to the running time, his part is minimal and not fully realized.
Even less realized is Peter Guillam, Smiley's right-hand man who is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. If Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a chess board, Guillam is a pawn, but an extremely effective one. Cumberbatch is excellent in the limited screen time he has.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has every component a good movie needs, except raw entertainment value. It's a perfectly made film that just lacks the energy to draw in and engage mainstream audiences. Still, for fans of classic spy films, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a worthy entry in the genre. It just isn't the mind-blowing movie we all wanted it to be.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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