Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Movie Review : Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Genre : Thriller / Suspense
Director : Tomas Alfredson
Starring : Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt
Released : 2011
My Rating : 8 out of 10

David Cornwell worked in the UK Secret Service in the 50 and 60s. Drawing from his experience with MI5 and MI6, he wrote psychological thrillers that portray the world and life of spies as realistically as possible. His novels are unlike anything you will ever find in James Bond movies/novels. They are also unlike anything Ludlum ever wrote in his many end-of-the-world conspiracy novels or his celebrated Jason Bourne series. When his spy novels started becoming international bestsellers, Cornwell chose to become a full time author. The novels written using his pen name - John Le Carre - have defined the standard by which all spy novels are measured.

These novels are devoid of physical action and packed with mental tension. Leisurely paced and full of jargon, they require complete attention from the readers to follow the chess games that are being played in the minds of spymasters. It's well worth the effort. But keep this point in mind when you watch this adaptation of what's often considered as John Le Carre's finest novel.

George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is the central character here as in many of Le Carre's novels. An operation goes terribly wrong and he is forced out of service, along with his boss - known to us as "Control" (John Hurt). When a British undersecretary receives a tip that there is a double agent very high up in the organization, he asks Smiley to head a secretive investigation, outside the scope of the "circus" or MI6. This is the story of that investigation. It's also the beginning of the trilogy that pitted Smiley against the head of KGB, referred as "Karla".

It's a complex book, with a large number of characters, and many subplots that don't lend to the 2 hours movie format. There was a very popular BBC serial with none other than Alex Guinness starring as Smiley. A TV serial is the right format for so much material. Making a movie out of this book is a daunting task. Director Tomas Alfredson succeeds in maintaining the atmosphere, the tension - but fails in clarifying everything that goes on. I felt a bit confused at multiple junctions in the movie, and I am sure I am not alone.

It's just the nature of this particular book that makes it so hard for the director and the writer. Le Carre's other novels have been successfully adapted. I really like "Tailor From Panama", and I highly recommend it. I was less impressed by "Constant Gardener", even though it earned many nominations and Academy award for Rachel Weiss.

Gary Oldman was nominated for Oscar for his performance as George Smiley. No disagreements there. I haven't seen Alex Guinness play this role in the TV serial, so I cannot compare. I am sure it's hard to top Sir Guinness, but Oldman was fantastic for me here. The entire cast is filled with A-list actors. John Hurt, Colin Firth and everyone else gives a perfect performance.

The director has to be complimented for remaining faithful to the book in the style of presentation. This movie uses camera far more than words. There are many silent scenes and they are potent. When "Control" and Smiley are dismissed from the service, they say a silent goodbye to each other. That short scene conveys so much. You immediately know that they were close allies, but it's all over now, and there is nothing left to say.

I recommend this movie to anyone who is in a mood for a satisfying experience and willing to work the little grey cells. With many jumps back and forth using flashbacks, the structure of the movie doesn't make it simpler. A few scenes make it unsuitable for kids, but even otherwise, I don't suspect kids of any age to have the attention span required to enjoy this movie.

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