Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

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Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Time Out rating:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>4</span>/5

User ratings:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>3</span>/5
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Time Out says

Posted: Mon Sep 5 2011

Any film of John Le Carré’s 1974 Cold War spy novel ‘Tinker Tailor Solider Spy’ has the twin shadows of the book and TV series hanging over it. How to match or surpass the 1979 five-hour version starring Alec Guinness as George Smiley – now played by Gary Oldman, lately much-missed by serious cinema – a British spy so colourless and dissimilar to James Bond that he would fit more comfortably in the tea rooms of a provincial railway station than on a tropical beach or in a Caribbean country club?
 
Moreover, how to cram so much information about retired, ex-MI6 luminary Smiley’s quiet, mechanical campaign to uncover ‘a mole right at the heart of the Circus’ into a feature-length version while keeping Le Carré’s ample fruity characterisations and wry comments about a changing Britain?
 
The tale is more or less as Le Carré had it, give or take the odd tweak– Hong Kong becomes Istanbul, for one, and Czechoslovakia is now Hungary. But the gist is still the same. A well-connected civil servant, hushed, conspiratorial Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney, naturally), recruits Smiley and an assistant, the younger spy Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch, playing Watson to Smiley’s Sherlock), to decipher which of his ex-colleagues is a high-level spy passing secrets to the Russians. Others are starting to believe what Smiley’s old boss Control (John Hurt) had long suspected before his ousting from the service following a bungled operation by taciturn, hard-as-nails spy Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) in Budapest: there’s a ‘rotten apple’ at the top of the service.
 
Is it dilettantish peacock Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), sour Scot Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), gruff, unremarkable Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) or Hungarian émigré Toby Esterhase (David Dencik)? The catalyst for Smiley’s operation is new information revealed by renegade agent Ricki Tarr, played by a brilliantly wily and rakish Tom Hardy. The only woman briefly to steal the show is Kathy Burke, filling the tough old boots of Beryl Reid as Smiley’s old pal and colleague Connie Sachs, although it’s hard to imagine Reid delivering the line, ‘I feel seriously underfucked,’ as she does so deliciously to Oldman: ‘George… wicked, wicked George.’
 
Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (‘Let the Right One In’) blows a fresh air of continental style into Le Carré’s story without harming the 1970s British period feel of his source material. There’s a touch of ‘The Ipcress File’ to his ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ in the way he industrialises the Circus – the service’s Cambridge Circus HQ – by turning interior Portacabin-like structures into soundproof meeting rooms. He does the same by moving Smiley’s Paddington base to what looks like a converted warehouse near Liverpool Street. It all feels a touch more urban. There’s also a dash of Scorsese in the way Alfredson’s camera glides through the story and in some of the striking image and music matches that he chooses, such as cutting a thrilling, concise final montage to Charles Trenet’s ‘La Mer’, sung by Julio Iglesias.
 
But still this is a world of dusty files, clapped-out caravans and remote prep schools. Oldman’s Smiley – more haggard, sinister and silent than Guinness but with enough of a hint of the great man’s voice to honour his memory – evens pops a Trebor mint into his mouth in the run-up to the film’s big reveal. The new script by Peter Straughan and his late wife Bridget O’Connor (to whom the film is dedicated) is a marvel of wise and respectful adaptation. At times you need your wits about you to keep up with a tangled web of a plot, and prior knowledge of the book or TV series certainly smooths the ride.
 
Naturally, some episodes from the book and TV series don’t make it into the film, but it’s remarkable how much remains, often secured by a sly glance here or quick image there. Anyone not familiar with the book or series might find the final uncovering of the mole – a door swings open and there he is – underwhelming. But that’s exactly as Le Carré had it. This spy story is all about the journey – the process – and the byways of the route, not the grand finale. This film’s superb cast, script and direction threaten to make that journey equally as thrilling as Le Carré’s book.
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Release details

UK release:

Fri Sep 16, 2011

Duration:

127 mins

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>0</span>/5

Average User Rating

3.4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:10
  • 4 star:11
  • 3 star:9
  • 2 star:6
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|68
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Zoeb

Really awesome review. Just the right kind of praise for a film like this. Le Carre's book was awesome and Tomas Alfredson did a fantastic job of bringing it on the screen. Li particularly loved the acting, the deliberately slow pacing and the authentic feel that the film had to it. I liked TimeOut for highlighting the Scorsese-like feel to the film. There were some great long shots and awesome music to compliment the mood as well...The climax was good but a bit hurried and somethings could have been explained but nevertheless I would give it 4 stars on 5.

reb

Great film!!!! great cast and great acting!!! dunno y peoplr day it' boring/difficult to follow etc. if you have read the book first then it wuld have been clear to you what is happening!!!! Tinker tailor soldier spy is a great book to read and great television series and movie to see :-)

reb

Great film!!!! great cast and great acting!!! dunno y peoplr day it' boring/difficult to follow etc. if you have read the book first then it wuld have been clear to you what is happening!!!! Tinker tailor soldier spy is a great book to read and great television series and movie to see :-)

Patrick Nugent

The film was never going to match the TV series, but was not bad in its own terms, as a film. A few flaws though - Casting was poor for Alleline, and Esterhaze (Bernard Hepton as Esaterhaze in TV series almost as difficult an act to follow as Guinness as Siley) and Mark Strong not able to balance toughness with tenderness essential to the Jim Prideaux character. Why was Guillam gay? (is there some sort of quota system in operation?) The ‘burning’ of Estahaze sequence is completely wrong and out of keeping with the tenor of the source material as is the last view if the relationship between Prideaux and schoolboy Bill Roache. In the book (and TV series) there is a redemption for Prideaux in this relationship. It is sour in the film. This is not a mere detail as this redemption is the linchpin of the whole book. The settings and filming were good, but the Circus should have been more claustrophobic. Hurt, brilliant as Control. Oldman as Smiley, very brave, but no Alec Guiness (even LeCarre saw Guinness as Smiley when writing ‘Smiley’s People’ later). All in all a good landing but in the wrong airport

GG

Mind numbing. Confusing. Frustrating. Would rather have walked out of the cinema and stared at a brick wall.

Chris allan

"boring, pretentious" ???? No, no, no...... Everything about this film was brilliant, everything!

Chris allan

"boring, pretentious" ???? No, no, no...... Everything about this film was brilliant, everything!

Pgreer

Avoid losing 2 hours of your life to this film! Such accolade, such hype & an Oscar nomination for Gary Oldman but such an anti-climax. The plot, or what was used from the novel, had to be diluted to fill 2 hours of viewing. The leaping back and forth in time was unclear & did not help the understanding of or interest in this film. I am so disappointed!

Loulou

So many people thought this was boring - all I can say is that a good film is not all about loads of action. Having not read the book, the plot was complicated, OK, but the whole look and feel of the film, together with FINE acting, kept my attention throughout. Really enjoyed it!

Ben Webster

Absolutely dreadful. How on earth did so many so-called expert reviewers think this was a good movie? Don't trust them! You wil be bored rigid if you do. The Swedish director thinks he's being very clever and stylish, leaving lots of things unexplained or thinly sketched, but in fact it's just an awful confusing mess in which you couldn't care less about any of the characters.

Julian B

The TV series was one of the best TV series ever. Wife and i were SO full of anticaption for the movie which i hired on cable on demand on Sat night. - with a nice bottle of red wine. Well...my wife was asleep within 30 mins and whilst that in itself was not totally unexpected (she has previous) to be honest and even knowing the plot i was finding myself becoming totally confused with the flashbacks and the mumblings and the sudden scene changes! An hour in my wife had woken up and i was in no position to even begin to explain to her what had happened - because to be honest i hadnt got a clue! So she went back to sleep...and to be honest when she awoke at the closing credits i doubt sitting in a MasterMind chair answering questions about the film that she wld have fared much worse than me ...it was totally incomprehensible..and very boring! Now i have a sneaking suspicion that i too mikght have had a small nap for a few minutes in the run up to the film's denoument and if i am honest i was going to privately re-watch the last half hour to see if it made more sense the next time...but having read many of the reviews above i fear my knowledge gap wld not close...and to be honest there wld be littel point. Such a great shame...such a poor film.

MDE

Much as others have said, including a friend who saw it with me, I left the theater thinking that the film editor was missing from the effort. I was bored to sleep early in the film, (as another critic said) so as to think that the reason for being unable to piece together the flashbacks with the current events. Overall, it was a frustrating experience; one should be able to leave the theater with a clearer understanding of who did what to whom and why. (And I don't want to read a novel first so that I can appreciate the film, which should stand on its own.)

deec

A good film with great acting. Gary Oldman is excellent as Smiley and really enjoyed the film.

dre

Half way in to the movie I still quite didn't understand what exactly was going on. Seemed like the story is being told by some skitso mixing up the story so that it's harder to understand what is going on. ....and so boring! I don't understand how this movie is getting all these good reviews. ...and it's from all these movie critics but every time i read real peoples comments not that many seamed to like it.

Pete Laidler

Normally I couldn't be bothered commenting but the good reports that this film have are hitting a nerve and are enough to make me become a conspiracy theorist. It is truly awful so why is review after review praising it? Someone's been handing over little brown envelopes under the table. Either that or the whole world's gone mad. Don't waste your time with this. The acting is non-existent and the scenery totally unbelievable. If young people think that it represents the 1970s accurately simply because it is boring and devoid of colour then they must have a very warped idea of the 1970s. I'm a big fan of the TV series but watched this new version without prejudice and on the basis of reports that it is a good film in its own right. It is not. I'd rather watch the whole of "Bill and Ben" back-to-back. This film (as any self respecting daisy would say)... is a weeeed!

Kim

Confusing and boring. I fell asleep in the movie for about 15 minutes out of self defense so I blamed myself that I had no idea what was going on. Was hoping that if I just watched close enough it would all come together for me. No luck there. I was feeling very stupid that I couldn't follow the movie until everyone around me started to talk about the film after it ended. Not one person was able to follow the movie and many of them read the book. I might try to watch again when it comes out on DVD along with many cups of strong coffee to help me through.

Grace

In the movie right now.... I want to die, very boring complete waste of time and money. Confusing from the start

Richard

Having read the book and owning the DVD sets of Tinker,Tailor and Smiley's People, I was concerned that my love for the TV mini-series would prejudice me against the film It was a good a job as can be done in compressing the story into 2 hours, but the pace short-circuits the brilliant dialoge and verbal exchanges between characters - the mini-series truly interprets the book onto the screen - the movie is just too damn short for the complexity of the story. I told my wife that it was like watching a 30 minute version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy

Bob Milley

Incomprehensible from the start. Couldn't care less about the characters, try as I may.

Felipe Priast

This movie has made a fundamental mistake whichi is, that a good book and a good TV adaptation preceded it and therefore, the comparisons were inevitable. From my point of view, it is a cinematic failure although there are a few things worth rescuing such as William Hurt's performance as "C", the performance of the actor in the role of Ricky Tarr and the feeling of the 70s although I think the latest is a little bit overdone. I also rescue the sense of "brutality" of the world of spionage during the cold war but nothing else. Gary Oldman performs poorly as Smiley and the rest of the roles were equally miscasted. If you haven't read the book or watched the miniseries, you will need to watch this movie at least 4 or 5 times to understand what it is about.

JCB

Incomprehensible from the second scene and the characters were all one-dimensional so you don't care one way or another about what happens to them. We didn't even know what the characters were called, ie their surnames, until the credits went up. A script written with no concern for cinema-goers who haven't read the book.

carrefan

Oldman wonderful, Strong wonderful, changes reasonless, direction ponderous & too Wallander-like. Gwillim looked wrong, Connie spoke wrong. Nice evocation of a vamished London. Good background music, bit intrusive in places.

sheila

The best film of the year, went to see Jayne Eyre total waste of money, this film had me glued from start to finish, not easy to follow but makes your brain work.

sheila

The best film of the year, went to see Jayne Eyre total waste of money, this film had me glued from start to finish, not easy to follow but makes your brain work.

Cindero

Another truly disappointing film that fails to live up to all the hype, in what must be one of the worst years in living memory for the quality of its new releases. I tried hard to follow the convoluted plot but (especially with all the flashbacks) it's just too confusing to anyone who hasn't read the book. A waste of a couple of hours.

Bookhead

I rely on TimeOut's film reviews, so went to see this confidently. Re-reading the review subsequently, I find nothing in it I can now agree with. I think Carol above has summed the film up succinctly! Apart from Benedict Cumberbatch's performance, I found the characterisations unmemorable. I think the director failed to realise that whereas standard spy films rely on action sequences, Le Carre's plots work through dialogue. Smiley listens, and we listen with him.. The TV series got that right, and succeeded. This version cut the dialogue and had lots of short scenes instead, so it was boring and baffling. By the way, did Ciaran Hinds actually say anything?

Carol

Hadn't got a clue what was going on from beginning to end. Lots of totally unnecessary and confusing changes of shot with no dialogue. Total waste of 2 hours. For those of you singing its praises, the Emperor's new clothes springs to mind!

impressed filmgoer

I was too young for the TV series, so came to this luckily without any baggage - or maybe it would have been better to have seen it on TV? Not sure, because although I was unlikely to be disappointed by comparison with the much-loved series, I actually found the plot difficult to follow. I didn't understand how the mole was found out... felt like it was all going on in Smiley's head and I wasn't given a look-in! Having said that, I loved the production design, felt almost like a costume drama! And Gary Oldman was really superb - really wonderful. Although it was slow, I agree with Mark that it was just the right amount. I really enjoyed it.

Ron Davies

I've seen it twice so far and am hoping a third visit to my local Picture House will establish it firmly under my belt. But what a superb piece of concise writing is Dave Calhoun's review..

Ron Davies

I've seen it twice so far and am hoping a third visit to my local Picture House will establish it firmly under my belt. But what a superb piece of concise writing is Dave Calhoun's review..

MacKenzie

Went to see this last night, I havent read the book and hadnt a clue what was going on from begining to end. Wish I had read the reviews before going. Shame as seriously good actors in it, but I struggled with the ever changeing scenes.

l0vaduck

I haven't read the book or seen the series, and I found this film quite mesmerising. This was in part due to the plot but for me was also due to the setting in 70's London. It was weird watching what seemed almost like a costume drama, but set in a period which I actually lived through. I missed bits of the plot but caught the gist, and found all the characters totally believable. I would recommend this film to anyone who's not an action junkie and who appreciates excellent acting and atmosphere.

bee

the most boring boring boring boring movie ever...so so bad...hardly any dialogue, no action, just terrible...

Iain

It's very good, though not as good as many critics are pretending. Over-convoluted, fine as regards pace, but actually unnecessarily confusing and a tad narratively empty. Denoument is underwhelming, so you wonder what the fuss was about on that score. excellent performances and photography etc. but by no means a film of the year. Worth 4 stars, though, with caveats. Not really the sort of movie you have to catch on the big screen.

Mark

If you like slow burn and chilled out movies like Lost in Translation, this is a good'un! After a heavy week, wanting a bit of time alone and just simply relax with great actors entertaining you, albeit slowly, it was just right. Really enjoyable. And just the right amount of slow.

kepex

At first I thought maybe this was a slow burner and it would build up to the thriller that it is advertised as. Unfortunately it didnt thrill or grip me at all. I found myself almost falling asleep half way through - I did manage to stay with it till the end but, I wish I hadnt. Had this been on TV I would have switched over within the first hour. Neither a shallow thinker or without imagination. Thie lacked structure or atmosphere, I found myself willing them to hurry up and find the "mole" long before the end. Shame as it was a top Casting.

Vibrex

Went to see this film yesterday. After reading many newspaper reviews I was looking forward to it. My son had seen it and I was not surprised by his disapointment as his generation seem to need more action. I like ths type of film and can handle slow burn films. Despite this I have to say it was a huge disapointment. It was a similar experience to Spielbergs Taken series, all the right ingredients but badly put together and I ended up switching over. I stuck with this film but came out feeling draned of life and not entertained. A great cast and a good story but I feel it was badly put together with a lot of unecessary changes of shot. I found my self unable to concentrate on the film. Despite the best attempts by the makers the film also lacked atmosphere. Scrumpyjack may have a point, maybe a second viewing is the way to go.

Ian

Excellent, although seems slow at first. The London of the film is more 1950s than 1970s, with no pop music in the background. References to homosexuality do not appear in the book that are in the film. Smiley lacks the tragic aspect. His wife Anne loves him, but he has been impotent since surviving a difficult wartime MI6 mission into Nazi Germany, as I recall the books anyway. Ricky Tarr was very well played here. Really enjoyed it.

Ian

Excellent, although seems slow at first. The London of the film is more 1950s than 1970s, with no pop music in the background. References to homosexuality do not appear in the book that are in the film. Smiley lacks the tragic aspect. His wife Anne loves him, but he has been impotent since surviving a difficult wartime MI6 mission into Nazi Germany, as I recall the books anyway. Ricky Tarr was very well played here. Really enjoyed it.

Peter Ludbrook

I found mysef quite disappointed iwith this film notwithstanding the generally favourable critical response it's had. I tried to erase memories of the TV version with Alec Guinness and only watched that again after seeing this film. For me the film doesn't work because none of the main characters Alaline, Bland and Esterhase are fleshed out in the way the TV series does. Smiley himself is always an enigma, so closed in on himself it's no wondrr his wife seeks solace elsewhere. I found the film surprisingly ungripping and it was a real effort of will to stay the course. Something not true of the % hour TV version. One further complaint. This was yet another film this year where in some scenes the dialogue was incomprehensible. The worst offender this year was "Meek's Cutoff", a defect commented on by a lot of your readers but I also found some key scenes in "Beginners" suffered from the same problem. At first I thought it was my antiquity to blame but when my daughter (24) makes the same complaint, as do others, then I know it's not me. So here's a question for your team of critics. Do they ever find this to be a problem or do they see movies in such state of the art conditions that it's not a problem? BUT if they do notice this problem why don't they comment on it and warn us, the paying public, in advance? I'd really like to know.

B

Total pants! was almost as boring as Lost in Translation which to this day is the only film I have walked out on in the cinema. Random girl next to me phrased it perfectly when she said at the end of the film 'I would have rather done the ironing than watch that film!' .....I don't want to give it even 1 star but apparently I have to.

S/. Lawrence

the comment you type in this box will appear on the site. Very disappointing:unconvincing acting in the Circus at the beginning -do spies really talk to each other like that? Far too much scene shifting without explanation, so that the plot was unnecessarily hard to follow: inadequate explanation for treachery - best omitted.

scrumpyjack

Decided on a second view before commenting as firstly I concentrated on story and exceptional acting to truly nail how I felt about it (though it was clearly excellent) and on the second just relaxed and soaked it all up. Recommend THAT'S the way to do it! NOT film of the year, NO star missing, apologies Mr. Calhoun! but a VERY fine 8+/10

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