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Whack a Mole

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy takes us back to the Cold War.

John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the 1974 spy novel generally regarded as the writer's finest, is predicated on a pair of enigmatic personalities: the colorless bureaucratic master-spook George Smiley and the double agent the Soviets have planted near the top of British intelligence whom Smiley must unmask.

Although not without violence, the novel is essentially a procedural in which, playing for grim stakes against a drab background of imperial decline, methodical Smiley must deal with degrees of betrayal and distinguish between shades of moral equivalence. (The story has a certain gravitas for being inspired by the real-life case of the Cold War traitor Kim Philby and his Cambridge-educated MI6 cohorts.) Alec Guinness was a memorably gray-faced, doughy protagonist in the 1979 Tinker, Tailor miniseries; Gary Oldman makes for an even more taciturn interrogator and robotically cool master of deductive logic in Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's brooding, fluidly crafted movie adaptation.

Best known for Let the Right One In, the bleak tween vampire drama remade here as Let Me In, Alfredson is strong on chilly atmospherics. Smiley's London is scarcely less shabby or conspiratorial than early '70s Budapest, where a botched British operation sets the narrative merry-go-round in motion. The "circus" — le Carré's term for MI6 — is in disarray, and the discharged Smiley is metaphorically brought back from the dead to discover which one of his former colleagues is the "mole" (another le Carré coinage). As Smiley goes about securing files and interviewing witnesses, Alfredson establishes a universe of technologically primitive dial phones, teletype machines and reel-to-reel tape recorders. If Smiley's secret agent is the anti-Bond, the retro Tinker, Tailor is a sort of diminished, melancholy Brazil — at times, dryly satiric. Alfredson returns repeatedly in flashback to the MI6 office Christmas party where Smiley becomes aware that his wife has betrayed him even while, in a comic literalization of le Carré's circus metaphor, a Lenin-masked Santa leads the assembled spooks in an enthusiastic rendition of the Russian national anthem — in Russian (which, of course, they all know).

Taciturn interrogator: Gary Oldman.
Jack English
Taciturn interrogator: Gary Oldman.

Details

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Rated R.

The latest Tinker, Tailor is, in some ways, more explicit regarding various characters' sexual proclivities than was the miniseries. It's also more concise, but what's lost is George's pathos. Oldman's Smiley is less agonized nerd than Asperger brainiac; as successful as Alfredson is in evoking the period, it's difficult these days to feature a movie hero who is not unequivocally victorious and perhaps even tougher, 22 years after Cold War victory, to evoke the psychology of that twilight struggle. I missed the final line, delivered in the miniseries (but not the novel) by the faithless Mrs. Smiley: "Poor George. You don't know what life is about, do you?"

 
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6 comments
Maggie_Mae
Maggie_Mae

So--I finally saw the film & loved it. It's not a remake of the excellent miniseries but another take on the novel. Le Carre approved--& even appeared in that Christmas party scene....

Ignored by the Golden Globes--this isn't exactly a Feel Good Movie--it was just shortlisted for numerous Baftas....

Hanabi-chan
Hanabi-chan

Movie is being released today. I saw it at a sneak preview Wednesday. Love it!

Maggie_Mae
Maggie_Mae

Hey, kids! I found a schedule for further release of TTSS! http://www.focusfeatures.com/t...

On 12/23/11, folks in Dallas & Austin can see the movie. Still no date for Houston!

And I'm still wondering why the Press chose to run this review so far in advance of a local showing...

Aguilera
Aguilera

Seems to be a pretty nice movie, what is the exact date we can see it?

Maggie_Mae
Maggie_Mae

So, the Press can't afford a Houston movie critic; Mr Hoberman works for The Voice. Wikipedia shows his eminent credentials. Hey, we're of an age; I was also impressed by the train wreck in The Greatest Show on Earth when very, very young. And he's a bit tired; no, this movie is not a remake of the excellent miniseries. (Which I remember, too!) It's a fresh take on le Carré's book--made with input from Mr le Carré. But Mr Hoberman is lukewarm about the whole thing; he also ignored everyone in the rather accomplished cast but Gary Oldman.

No matter, I'd already decided to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. When it comes to Houston. Now "in limited release"--but not in the 4th largest city in the country. Two questions:

1) Why is the review running this week in the Press? Shouldn't it be delayed until the movie is due here?

2) When will it open in Houston? That would really be useful information to read online or in the paper! Do you have somebody on staff who can try to find out for us?

Editing to add this information as the new message I posted appeared & disappeared. Here's a schedule of release dates for TTSS: http://www.focusfeatures.com/t...

On 12/23/2011, the movie opens in Dallas & Austin. No date yet for Houston....

 

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