Saturday, 17 September 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy [Review]

Premiering at the 68th Venice International Film Festival around two weeks prior to general release, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was greeted almost instantly with unanimous critical acclaim. Cries of sophistication, intelligence, and an astounding, absorbing experience were bandied around various film institutions; as of this writing, Tinker holds a 97% aggregate on Rotten Tomatoes after thirty five reviews. Just one of those has been negative, which only begs the question: why?

The film revolves around the British secret service in the 1970s; more specifically, the attempts of a forcibly retired spy, one George Smiley (Gary Oldman), to uncover a mole within the organisation, who has been feeding information to the Russians. Thus commences a twisted, vicious web of lies, deceit and corruption; with every other character a suspect, Smiley’s hunt for the perpetrator brings him into conflict with almost the entire supporting cast.

And what a stellar cast that is. Oldman is supported by everyone from John Hurt to Colin Firth in an absolutely outstanding A-List set of actors; a line-up complemented superbly by up-and-coming stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy (the latter you may recognise from last year’s Inception and in next year’s Batman flick, The Dark Knight Rises). The performances are all immeasurably British, and really help to capture the feel of Cold-War era England.

Such an atmosphere is furthered still by Alfredson’s stellar direction. Tinker carries style by the barrelful, with murky greys, greens and browns dousing the rain-filled milieu; in essence, it’s everything a typical Brit might imagine when conjuring up images of their homeland. And it only serves to reflect the ambience of the film in general; in a world where no one can be trusted, full of lies and misery, the mise-en-scene of Alfredson’s efforts is a directorial marvel.

It’s a huge shame, then, that Tinker’s strengths end here.

Indeed, what’s clear from Alfredson’s interpretation is that Tinker Tailor was originally adapted as a seven part television series for a reason. All credit to John Le CarrĂ© for such an intricately woven web of a tale, but the means to an end that Tinker relies on for its sucker punch are woefully underplayed in Peter Straughan’s subpar script. Should you manage to follow its elaborate, jarring storyboard to the last detail, and correctly assume the identity of the mole, there’s little chance you’ll care. Tinker tries to be complex and ends up convoluted.

Much of this is down to Alfredson failing to allow the plot to develop at a natural pace; much of the film’s opening scenes belong solely to Smiley, yet instead of exposition to the story we’re given montages of his character. This of course allows for development of the protagonist, personifying the film to such an end, but where a plot as complex as that of Le CarrĂ©’s is concerned, crammed into a meagre 127 minute screenplay, it might be assumed that more focus should be given on expanding the story. Character development is intrinsic, yes, but Alfredson captures it throughout the film anyway. The slow starting pace of a rushed plot hinders Tinker; indeed, it is precisely this which gives it such a convoluted feel.

In Alfredson’s desire to illuminate such an intelligent plot in little over two hours’ runtime, he manages to almost completely alienate the audience, providing little to engage with. Multiple narrative threads dangle loosely as the credits roll, helped in no manner by yet another montage that seemingly wishes to only give every character, no matter how minor, another couple of seconds of screentime, offering few tied knots.

This hectic wish to complicate things further simply alienates the antagonists; too little exposure is given to the suspects and secondary characters, to the end that when the reveal happens, you’ll be left wondering why you wanted to know in the first place. Tinker boasts style, sophistication and a little substance, but ultimately ends up disengaging, unabsorbing and emotionally defunct.


See also: The Debt (2011)

Dir: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt
Studio Canal, 127 mins, 16/09/11

Synopsis: Intelligence has been discovered that suggests a mole in the British secret service. In comes George Smiley (Oldman), an ex-MI6 agent, who narrows down the search to four suspects...


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