Monday 19 September 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Smiley Coyote

Tinker. Tailor, Soldier, Spy 2011 France/UK/Germany
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Screening at UK cinemas

Hmmm... I’m at a bit of a loss to know how to really get inside this one.

I should probably mention that I’ve never read John Le Carre’s novel on which this one was based and also I’m not sure that I’ve seen Alec Guiness in his turn as Smiley from the TV shows they made of the first and third parts of Le Carre’s Karla trilogy (although it is all ringing a bit of a bell now so it’s possible I caught it on repeats sometime in the 80s).

Of all the many films of the novels that the character of George Smiley appears in, the only one I’ve actually seen and read also happens to be pretty much my favourite spy movie of all time (just toppling The Quiller Memorandum and The IPCRESS File from their joint top slot), The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Smiley is not the central character in that one (I don’t believe he actually turns up in The Russia House but some of the other characters from his stories do... but I’m still not counting it technically as a Smiley movie). However, when it comes to the very serious and extremely chilly spy thriller then The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is the one I hold everything up in comparison to... it’s just so damned depressing!

Bearing this in mind, then, I think it would be true to say that my feelings on this new incarnation of one of the more famous of Le Carre’s novels left me feeling a little underwhelmed and, perhaps, just a trifle warmer than I’d hoped for. However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend it to most people I know who like movies... it’s certainly a well put together piece. It’s just that...

Well I loved the trailer! Seriously, if ever a trailer was going to get me to go see a movie just on the strength of that sole piece of advertising then the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy trailer was it. It’s really sinister and threatening with some edits which strongly imply some seriously chilling little set pieces, not least of which is a pair of eyes in a kind of opticians eye-test frames which suggest an intimidating piece of kit for a long distance assassin but... well... it really is just a few seconds throwaway shot in the opticians in the movie proper, to help silently establish the kind of man George Smiley is. So a bit of a dissapointment there then.

The trailer also has some heavy duty, terrifyingly cold, kick-ass music playing throughout and, to be honest, this was my main reason for wanting to see this movie in the first place. Alas, the music used in the trailer is not from regular Almodovar composer Alberto Iglesias’ score to the movie, which resembles to some extent a kind of toned down and understated homage to Jerry Goldsmith’s light jazz sections in The Russia House. The musical score as utilised in the film is more than competent... but it does nothing to give the piece the chilling edge that a movie like this really needs.

Not that there aren’t equally chills in certain sequences of the movie... a certainly very predictable but so well executed that it still manages to give a little jolt scene in an interrogation sequence springs quickly to mind... and the sequence where actor Toby Jones has a fierce word or two with Benedict Cumberbatch is enough to make one feel very uncomfortable about things (who says suspense in movies is dead?) but ultimately, although I was fairly well engaged with the movie... I couldn’t help but compare it to such stalwart classics as the aforementioned The Quiller Memorandum and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and I have to say I found it sadly lacking in both the steely terror and the sheer intelligence that those particular kinds of movies were so good at in their day.

At the end of the day though, I still can’t really put my finger on why this movie didn’t quite make it for me. The performances were uniformly brilliant and just what you’d expect from the likes of Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Mark Strong and Roger Lloyd-Pack. Similarly, the very welcome and leisurely pacing of the piece should have really brightened my outlook to it (it’s really not edited anything like the trailer was). It didn’t though and I’m really at a loss as to why I didn’t “quite” take to this one like a duck takes to water. I loved this same director’s Let The Right One In (which Hammer kind of screwed up with their interpretation of it, Let Me In) but this one is another story. It’s just one of those things I guess.

Short review, I know, but I haven’t really got a lot else I’m inspired to say about this less than chilling (but not too unsubtle) spy movie. Was expecting a much more convoluted plot I guess... maybe the simplicity of the story threw me. At any rate... whether I liked it or not (and it’s definitely not a DVD purchase for me on this), I’d still recommend this one to any readers who are into cinema movies right now... if purely for the fact that the film takes its time and doesn’t hurtle along at too breakneck a pace for your tired eyes to keep up with. And certainly, for the younger and less travelled viewers who might not have seen or read some of the great sixties classics of the genre, this movie might be a bit of fresh air to them.

Certainly though, for this particular reviewers eyes, it was certainly a case of “nothing new here”. I predict it will be a well liked and well appreciated film though and it might well win a gong or two at Oscar time (but don’t tell me if it does because I try hard to avoid dodgy awards shows at all costs). Certainly, I’m sure, this is not the last time we’ll be seeing the character of George smiley back on our screens after his longish hiatus. Who knows? Perhaps this time they’ll even do the middle book in the Karla trilogy?


  1. I walked into this one completely cold excited by the trailer as well. I had no idea what the hell was going on here and could barely keep the names straight. Having never read or seen any of what you mentioned here, except Let The Right One In, I'm still left out in the cold. Liked the art direction and performances. Story......meh.

  2. Yeah... it was okay but a bit of a let down for me. Turns out the fantastic music from the trailer was from Elfman's score to The Wolfman.

    Thanks so much for reading.