Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Review

Greetings and salutations, Internet!

I finally had the opportunity to see Tomas Alfredson's (Let the Right One In) Tinker Tailor Solider Spy.  I have not read the book, so I went into this film with fresh eyes.  Well, not exactly.  With full disclosure I had been spoiled, and knew who the spy was.  This information didn't really have an effect on whether or not I enjoyed the film; there were other qualities that lent more to my enjoyment of the film.

TTSS is a hard-boiled spy "thriller."  I put thriller is quotes because it isn't all that thrilling.  It is rather a slow-paced character drama...that doesn't let you know too much about the characters themselves.  To get to the heart of the matter, that was my biggest gripe with the film.  Alfredson keeps the audience at arm's length with regards to these character's back-stories and who they really are.  We get little more than a name and perhaps their status within the "circus."  The big reveal as to who the spy is is teased several times throughout the film, yet didn't produce a big reaction from me when the reveal finally came.  And that is because not much time is spent with the suspects; again, we know only their names (and that is fairly hard remember in its own right) and spend barely minutes with each of them.  I can't help but feel that more set-up was required to make the emotional impact of the reveal stronger and more effective.

My other main gripe is the pacing of the film; the beginning thirty minutes or so drag quite a bit.  Only when Tom Hardy's character makes a certain phone call does the main thrust of the plot really take off.  And even then the story moves at a snail's pace.  Not to say that that's inherently a negative.  An action film this is not - there are no high-tension shoot-outs, no James Bond-ing.

That said I quite enjoyed TTSS.  The cast is insanely packed with high-caliber talent: Mark Strong, Gary Oldman (putting in an Oscar-worthy performance), Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch (recently cast as the villain in Star Trek 2), Colin Firth, John Hurt and Stephen Graham.  There isn't a single poor performance in the entire piece.  Again, I wish we could've spent more time with each individual character; perhaps just a small scene giving us a little more back story about who these people are and where their motivations lie.

What I appreciated the most about Tinker was that nothing was dumbed down at all.  The films picks up using language that may confuse audiences: "Control" refers to John Hurt as head of the intelligence agency, "The Circus" refers to the agency itself.  Names are thrown around without context or explanation.  You just have to sit back and let the narrative play out, allowing us to piece together the puzzle along with Oldman.  Confusion can easily set in and at times I really didn't know why characters were doing what they were doing, but by the end all of it made sense, even if I didn't really enjoy how it all played out.

Tinker Tailor is a very "cold" film.  It felt very clinical in its presentation of facts and the characters.  I got the same feeling from 2011's Contagion - the characters are kept purposely out of reach of the audience so we don't get all that attached.  I feel that TTSS could've easily been twenty-to-thirty minutes longer and been perfectly fine.  Story-lines involving the main suspects could've been added, and allowed for a more impactful reveal of the Russian spy.  If you enjoy spy thrillers, or just well-acted period-pieces I recommend Tinker Tailor Solider Spy highly.  If you are easily confused or bored then perhaps this isn't the film for you.

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is an enjoyable thriller..that may underwhelm you by the end.

The Bearded Bullet is...going to try to remember the names of the main characters...

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