Film Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

“Things aren’t always what they seem”

My anticipation levels for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy were rather high, I didn’t make it to the cinema but its award-winning pedigree backed up by several people recommending it to me, assured that I would love it. And though it is a genre I have neglected, I do love a good spy thriller. That said, I’d not read the 1974 John Le Carré novel it was based on or seen the TV show, so I was coming to it with completely fresh eyes. I’d been warned that I’d need to concentrate so I took care to ensure that distractions were kept to a minimum as I watched the DVD, but I have to say that I really wasn’t carried away by the film or swept up into its world of intrigue.

When an MI6 agent is gunned down mid-meet in Hungary, the head of the secret service Control and his lieutenant George Smiley resign in acknowledgement of the failure, but Smiley is soon covertly rehired to look into the possibility that it was a mole that gave the game away. With the help of two colleagues, he begins to investigate the shortlist of suspects to find out who is the one who has betrayed his country. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson brings a measured solemnity to the densely complex plot which comprises of a bewildering number of characters and details which I struggled to take in and sustain the requisite level of interest.

I suspect that I would have enjoyed it more in the cinema. Despite my best efforts to create the proper space for it, a Sunday evening at home perhaps isn’t the best time for such a serious piece, at least for me and so it was maybe onto a loser from the start. Undoubtedly, it is very well acted. Gary Oldman’s tightly controlled Smiley, Colin Firth’s confident Haydon, Toby Jones’ irascible Alleline, all the suspected men are masters of self-restraint; Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy bring a more youthful energy to the pair helping Smiley out with his investigations, and Kathy Burke provides a shot of well-needed variety (and oestrogen) as the disgraced Connie Sachs.

The slow-slow-burn of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is completely at odds with the high octane thrill of modern day spy stories like Spooks, a nice contrast and one which ought to have appealed to me, and to be honest I am at a loss as to why it did not. My only real criticism came with the ending and its rather hurried reveal, singularly lacking in the rich detail of what had gone before, otherwise it was just more a case of me not connecting with the film, despite the quality on display in the cast, direction and design.


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