Title: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Another Spy Movie? There are spy movies, and there are spy movies.
What The Hell Does That Mean? It means Mission: Impossible is to real espionage what Velveeta is to real cheese.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four Enigma machines out of five.
Tagline: "The enemy is within."
Better Tagline: "Don't let the funny clothes fool you, these guys know their shit."
Brief Plot Synopsis: A former intelligence operative must unearth an enemy operative in the upper echelons of the British Secret Service.
Who - Or What - Is A "Benedict Cumberbatch?" Going by the number of movies he's appearing in this year (War Horse, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Wreckers, not to mention the BBC's Sherlock), he's the male British equivalent of Jessica Chastain.
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Following a botched operation in Hungary, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is forced into retirement, along with his boss "Control" (John Hurt), head of the Secret Intelligence Service (also known as "The Circus"). He's coaxed back into action by agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), who informs him there is a mole in the upper echelons of the Circus. With no official sanction and few allies, Smiley must uncover the mole before any more damage is done.
"Critical" Analysis: In spite of what we've been taught by everyone from James Bond to Ethan Hunt, intelligence work rarely consists of car chases on winding European roads or kung-fu fighting. Espionage is a marathon rather than a sprint, an often tedious exercise that advances gradually as evidence is gathered and relationships are nurtured for months and years before bearing fruit. Of course, this sort of meticulous activity doesn't exactly lend itself to boffo box office. That's why the only previous attempt to adapt John le Carré's classic spy novel ended up a seven-part BBC miniseries.
Put another way, if you're expecting Oldman or Hardy to go all Jason Bourne on some Russkies, you'd be better off staying home and watching Rambo. Director Tomas (Let the Right One In) Alfredson paces the proceedings as deliberately as he can, given the density of the source material. And to be fair, things can be a little hard to follow for those who haven't read the book. Even after excising huge chunks of plot, screenwriters Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan have had to condense a great deal of detail into just over two hours.
And I have to admit, it feels like longer at times. It actually took me two nights to watch it the first time, because I was sick and too wiped out to pay close attention. The movie is a fantastic exercise in atmosphere, tension, and period authenticity (who knew the 70s were so drab?), but you should manage your expectations. Not because I'm trying to lower them - the movie really is that good - but because I want people to know what they're getting into. For example, the freaking preview shows Mark Strong with a sniper rifle, and that's one of two gun-related scenes in the entire movie.
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The whole affair hinges on Oldman's performance, and he's going to get a great deal of (deserved) accolades for it. Certainly I've heard some claim his Smiley is too cold, too detached to be a compelling figure. I disagree, and without spoiling anything, I'll just say to watch his face and body language in just about any scene with his wife Ann (Katrina Vasilieva).
I won't lie, the Alec Guinness TV series remains the definitive version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but Alfredson, O'Connor and Straughan have done the near-impossible and made an eminently watchable and engaging (albeit abridged) rendition. And it's a nice palate cleanser while we wait for Battleship and Men in Black III.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is in theaters today. See it if you can. Shaken (not stirred) martini optional.