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Friday, June 8, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: A Reevaluation

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: A Reevaluation
by Joshua Handler
2011, 128 minutes
Rated R for violence, some sexuality/nudity, and language

I first encountered Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy back in December when it was first released.  I had incredibly high expectations, only to have them shattered.  When I came out of the film, I was incredibly confused and unsatisfied.  I had not understood the film due to the immense amount of twists, subtle clues, and characters.  My dad recently rented the film out of curiosity due to the fact that everyone I know did not understand the film.  I came in 15 minutes into the film laughing that he was going to attempt to understand it.  However, after a time, I felt myself being drawn in more and more.  After working through the film with my dad, I realized that the full plot was there, but I just had to start thinking like a spy to understand it.

The genius of the film lies in the screenplay by husband-and-wife team Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan who had a daunting task of adapting what is supposedly a very dense and complicated book into a two-hour film.  They make the film into a dense coil of secrets, betrayals, and lies with triple crosses and a dozen characters with many back stories.  They made my dad and I think like spies.  If you blink, you may miss one of the many subtle, but important glances or clues left by one of the spies.  The fact that  the writers were able to incorporate these little details into such a dense story is mind-blowing.

Working with O'Connor and Staughan was director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) who with superb visual flair and tight control over the film, translates the words brilliantly to the screen with his talented cast.  He, with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema and composer Alberto Iglesias (one of my personal favorites especially for his work with Pedro Almodóvar), create an atmosphere of intrigue and mystery.  Van Hoytema uses the dreariness of London to full effect to create an atmosphere of darkness and tragedy and Iglesias uses his Oscar-nominated score to make the audience feel the paranoia and suspicion that all of the spies feel.

One aspect of the film that I truly commend Alfredson, John le Carré (the book's author), and the crew for is that they never make spying look like fun as the James Bond films (and nearly every other spy film) do.    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a slow-burn with much of the film's running time taken up by conversations that don't even pertain to the main mystery, but rather to character development.  This film shows what spying is like: waiting, with some moments of suspense and excitement.

The finishing touch on all of the layers of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the cast.  The cast boasts the very best actors that Britain has to offer: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Mark Strong, and Ciarán Hinds.  All are fantastic and completely believable in their roles, but the Oscar-nominated Gary Oldman steals the show as retired spy George Smiley who is brought back into The Circus (the movie's name for MI6) to find what may be a mole.  Oldman embodies Smiley completely.  The genius of Oldman in this film is that he has very little expression on his face, but I could see into his character and just glimpse the years of tragedy and mystery behind it.  An entire film could be dedicated to Smiley's past jobs with The Circus.  Gary Oldman is a very versatile actor playing such varied roles as Jim Gordon in The Dark Knight and Sirius Black in the Harry Potter films.  However great he was in those films, he ups his game for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in a performance that will probably be considered one of his finest in the years to come.

Overall, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of the few films that is not meant to be viewed in the theater, but rather one that should be viewed in the home with subtitles and the ability to pause the film and discuss with the person who you are viewing with.  It is a truly brilliant film that is absolutely worth watching, but will potentially be one that may not all set in with one one viewing.

Original rating: 2/4
Revised rating: 4/4

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