Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Enjoy the piece? Please share this article on your platform of choice using the buttons above, or join the Twitch stream here!

"It's not what a movie is about, it's how it is about it."

-- Roger Ebert

This is demonstrative statement for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a film that concerns an impenetrable organization and does its best to mimic indubitably. You want a film where no one understands what's going on and mysterious things keep happening for no rhyme or reasons? Well, here's a film where you won't understand what's going on and things seem to keep happening for no rhyme or reason.

It's economic, in a way.


Look, I'm not going to fault a film for refusing to talk down to its audience-- on the contrary, movies that require the audience to fill in the blanks often create an opaque but undeniably intimate sense of beauty. But hanging this mask upon a film advertised (and eventually morphing into) a conventional spy thriller, and you're left with something that alludes to Cold War paranoia spy films like The Spy Who Came in From The Cold, but a movie that also wants its action scenes and dramatic reveal. It's got a half dozen balls in the air, and they're camouflaged for extra effect.

The plot, from what I took away, is about George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a former agent for 'The Circus', one of those spy agencies whose tentacles reach far and wide. He was forced out after an operation in Hungary goes bad, but finds himself called upon again to find a traitor in the agency's mists. The suspects are Percy (Toby Jones), Roy (CiarĂ¡n Hinds), Toby (David Dencik), and Bill (Colin Firth), aka Tinker, Tailor, etc, etc.

Smiley, whose name is ironic (and if you don't pick up on it, the film visually underline and highlights this several times), skulks about, trying to unravel both the mystery of the mole as well as the mystery why his marriage fell apart so recently. Oldman indicates Smiley's grief with long, sorrowful stares that are also used to indicate happiness, anger, joy, laughter, and, of course, explosive diarrhea.

I kid, of course. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy contains no scenes of explosive diarrhea by anyone, not even Smiley's cohort Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch). Peter runs most of Smiley's errands (still staring sadly), and does most of the sneaky stuff involving the infiltration of The Circus. You eventually come to find out he works pretty high up in the organization as well, which would have been good to know a couple of acts sooner. He's also gay; here is your proof that the 1974 John Le Carre novel got at least a dusting off before the conversion to screenplay.

Notice how I have tastefully stopped discussing diarrhea. I'm a goddamn saint, I tell you.

The rest of the screenplay resembles something more akin to something found in a blender, as the story is chopped to bits to fit the film's two hour running time. It's not until we meet field agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) that the film actually slows down enough to allow the audience to catch its breath, telling his story of falling in love and then losing her to those dastardly Soviets who've been tipped off by the mole.

It's one of the few sections that work, which is a shame considering the acting talent on display here. The problem is that the film's own desire to be as opaque as possible never creates a palpable sense of the characters. For the audience to identify the mole, they'd have to make a lucky guess rather than use any prior knowledge; the men are underdeveloped to the point of anonymity.

There's a fine line in creating a work of cinema that's true to a film's mood and ideals but not too obtuse to create something that alienates. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy unfortunately can't find that balance. It's a film that is more akin to Cliff Notes than cinema; I'd recommend reading the book first, and then using this as a sort of "Greatest Hits" compilation. It's not really much otherwise.

If you enjoy my writing or podcast work, please consider becoming a monthly Patron or sending a one-time contribution! Every bit helps keep Can't Stop the Movies running and moving toward making it my day job.

Posted by Danny

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. With so much information being thrown at us, I wish that there was much more time for all of it to just sink in but I liked the fact that the film made you pay attention to every little detail as this story just kept building and building. Everybody here in this cast is great too, especially Oldman who perfectly brings this flick together. Good review.

Leave Your Thoughts!

Trackbacks are disabled.